New Mexicans voted in a landslide for an ethics commission to police those in state government. But a Senate committee can’t seem to agree on how it should work. The Senate Rules Committee deadlocked Monday in a round of votes on two different bills that would set up the commission. The logjam comes amid questions about how much the public should know about the panel’s work and how much authority it should have to subpoena documents or witnesses. This disagreement is not a surprise given that lawmakers have been left to decide how to police themselves.
A campaign fundraising letter that public land commissioner candidate Patrick Lyons sent ranchers who lease land from the State Land Office is raising legal and ethical questions a month before voters decide whether to return him to the job he held for eight years. Should Lyons win the seat this November, he will be in charge of renegotiating leases with companies seeking to renew those agreements. About 30 percent of the money Lyons has raised so far in his run has come from lessees, according to a review of campaign finance records. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. A copy of the letter was shared with New Mexico In Depth and is addressed “dear agricultural lessee.” It goes on to describe Lyons’ record as a rancher and farmer, and as previous land commissioner.
The Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners voted on Tuesday against adding a public finance proposal to the November general election ballot. The proposal, known as Democracy Dollars, would provide vouchers to citizens, who could apply them to publicly-financed candidates of their choice. While the commission only voted on whether the measure would be on the November 2018 ballot for Albuquerque residents, commissioners mostly criticized the merits of the proposal itself. Executive Director of Common Cause New Mexico Heather Ferguson called the 3-2 vote an “overstep” and “overreach” by commissioners. “What the commission decided to do tonight is to question the will of the voters who knew and understood the program they were signing,” Ferguson said.
Employees of companies that do business with the city, and a few of those companies themselves, donated more than $74,000 to Albuquerque mayoral candidates through the end of March, an analysis by New Mexico In Depth found. That’s more than twice the amount the city found in an official report submitted last week, which was required within 48 hours of the latest campaign finance deadline. In 2007, Albuquerque voters approved a ban on corporate contributions and contributions from city contractors. But a 2013 lawsuit overturned those bans. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission.
Albuquerque mayoral candidates seeking public campaign money have less than a week left to qualify. While the filing deadline may lead to a reduced list of candidates, it’s likely candidates who fail to qualify for public financing will stay in the race and instead fund their campaigns through private donations. The Albuquerque city clerk’s website listed seven candidates as seeking public financing as of Monday night, but two candidates on that list told NM Political Report they will forgo public money and fund their campaigns from regular donations. Those who are still trying to qualify for public money will need to submit almost 4,000 contributions of $5 each by Saturday to qualify. The collected contributions will be deposited into a city account and then divided amongst the qualified candidates.
With the state wracked by successive corruption scandals involving top officials, several lawmakers seem to agree that this is the year for ethics reform in New Mexico. A committee of the state House of Representatives gave a boost to those hopes Thursday by advancing a bipartisan proposal to establish an independent ethics commission through a constitutional amendment. The commission would have the power to investigate complaints of misconduct by public officials, candidates, lobbyists and contractors. The complaints would be public, and the commission’s opinions could be appealed to the state courts. Campaign finance reform advocates and good government groups have fought for years to create such a body.
A complaint accuses an Albuquerque state representative of improperly directing state money toward a charter school project overseen by his brother. The complaint names Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, of the ethics violation. David Pacheco, an architect and Paul Pacheco’s brother, designed and oversaw construction in early 2015 of a campus building for ASK Academy, a charter school in Rio Rancho. The year before, Paul Pacheco requested $900,000 of state taxpayer money earmarked for capital outlay projects be used for the charter school. The state ended up awarding $230,000 that year to ASK Academy, which became part of a $6.9 million bond issued to ASK Academy in February 2015.
Common Cause New Mexico, a group that advocates for ethics and campaign finance legislation, released its first legislative scorecard this week. The scorecard is designed to track the legislators’ performance on ethics, transparency and good government bills. Common Cause New Mexico did not name anyone “champions” or “opponents” as other advocacy groups do with their scorecards. Instead, it just shows how legislators voted on five bills in 2015 and six bills in 2016. “The report is in keeping with our pledge that everyone—legislators, lobbyists and advocates—needs to be held accountable for their actions, their votes, their contributions and expenditures,” Viki Harrison, director of Common Cause New Mexico, said.
The New Mexico Secretary of State’s office will hold a public hearing on proposed campaign finance rule changes this Friday. The rule changes are aimed at specifying how candidates can spend money received through contributions to their respective campaigns. A candidate, for instance, would not be able to spend campaign money on personal expenses such as membership dues or medical procedures. Recently, a state lawmaker’s campaign came to the attention of the Secretary of State’s office for spending money on personal expenses like clothing and a surgical procedure as well as donating money to a family. The new rules would also prohibit donations to groups other than tax-exempt organizations.
By Sandra Fish | New Mexico In Depth
Lobbyists and organizations feted New Mexico legislators and other officials with more than $519,000 worth of food, drink and gifts from Jan. 15 through the end of April. Of the 600 lobbyists registered with the Secretary of State’s office to represent more than 750 clients, only 116 spent money during the session. Those individual lobbyists spent $334,419 on events such as the 100th Bill Party, electric toothbrushes, teddy bears, gift certificates and, in one instance, ammunition for concealed carry training. And 14 companies spent $184,685.