January 23, 2015

Analyzing New Mexico’s threat of corruption

iStock_000013953841_MediumWith officials from all three branches of government presenting their respective agendas at the Roundhouse this week, it’s important to keep in mind that maintenance of public trust is among the state’s chief obligations.

Today political writer Harry Eten at FiveThirtyEight.com looked at how difficult it is to derive a comprehensive measurement of corruption at the individual state level. One of the articles he cites includes particular relevance for New Mexico.

A survey by researchers Oguzhan Dincer and Michael Johnston asked investigative and political reporters to rank levels of illegal and legal corruption in each state.

From Dincer and Johnston’s article:

We define illegal corruption as the private gains in the form of cash or gifts by a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups. … We define legal corruption as the political gains in the form of campaign contributions or endorsements by a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups, be it by explicit or implicit understanding.

Dincer and Johnson’s overall results found “all bad news for Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New Mexico, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania as their aggregate scores are in the highest quartiles of both illegal and legal corruption.”

An earlier survey of New Mexico reporters and government watchdog groups conducted by local journalist Gwyneth Doland for the State Integrity Investigation broke more bad news along those lines. And in 2013, a reporter on the State Integrity Blog looked at how our state legislators routinely act in ways that (at minimum) appear to be conflicts of interest. Some of this is an inevitable result of our system of unpaid citizen representation; because lawmakers have to hold down full-time jobs,

… insurance agents vote on insurance bills, doctors vote on health care bills and school administrators vote on education funding bills.

For more on the debate over whether our legislators should be working full time with a salary, check out Heath Haussamen’s article in the New Mexico In Depth 2015 Legislative Guide. We’ll see if measures are made this session to curb corruption.


  • Margaret Wright

    Margaret Wright is a freelance writer and editor born and raised in Albuquerque, NM. She has also worked as a teacher, social worker and waitress. She was promoted from contributor to managing editor of Albuquerque’s alt.weekly Alibi before going on to co-found the New Mexico Compass (R.I.P.), a digital news and culture outlet with an emphasis on mentoring fledgling journalists.