No issue in the 2017 New Mexico Legislature has drawn citizens to the Roundhouse like the push to expand mandatory background checks on gun sales. People on both sides of the issue have shown up in droves to committee hearings in both the House and Senate to testify about two bills that would require more gun buyers to go through background checks.
And lobbyists for out-of-state organizations on both sides of the issue have spent thousands of dollars to push their positions. In fact, according to lobbyist expense reports filed with the Secretary of State’s Office, the biggest expenditure since the session began in mid-January was $44,377 spent by Tara Reilly-Mica, the Texas-based lobbyist for the National Rifle Association.
Reilly-Mica’s report, filed Feb. 13, said the money, paid to Cincinnati-based Starboard Strategic, was for “internet communication.”
Even though the expense was larger than any other reported by a lobbyist so far this session — accounting for more than a fifth of the nearly $200,000 in total lobbyist spending — it’s only a fraction of what a gun control group gave to New Mexico legislators and political action committees last year.
Pedro Morillas, a lobbyist for New York-based Everytown for Gun Safety, reported making more than $219,000 in campaign contributions in 2016. Everytown is chaired by media mogul and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The NRA reported spending just over $10,000 on New Mexico candidates last year.
So far, neither Morillas nor Everytown has filed lobbyist expense reports since the legislative session started.
The NRA’s ads urging opposition to the background check measures, House Bill 50 and Senate Bill 48, have appeared on Facebook and other places on the web.
“The NRA’s digital ad buy in New Mexico is part of a statewide grassroots effort to protect New Mexicans’ Second Amendment freedoms,” NRA spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen said in an email to The New Mexican.
“In recent weeks, our members have sent tens of thousands of emails to lawmakers expressing their opposition to the the gun control bills being pushed on New Mexicans by out of state gun control groups funded by New York City billionaire Michael Bloomberg. When our members know their constitutional rights are on the line, they speak out,” she said.
The two bills would expand mandatory background checks of firearms sales to cover internet sales, gun-show sales and most other private transactions.
The House bill had gone through its assigned committee hearings and was on the House floor calendar. On Thursday, however, sponsor Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, announced she would take it back to the House Judiciary Committee for “more input.” So far, the committee has not scheduled a second hearing.
The Senate bill is still awaiting a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
During a session of the Legislature, lobbyists are required to report to the Secretary of State’s Office expenditures larger than $500 within 48 hours of the spending.
Lobbyists typically spend their clients’ or employers’ money, not their own, on events, meals, gifts and campaign contributions.
The state Gift Act limits lobbyists from giving gifts valued at more than $250 to individual lawmakers.
Other large lobbyist expenditures to appear in the expense reports since the beginning of the month include:
o $15, 844 for a Feb. 15 reception and dinner for lawmakers and others sponsored by the New Mexico Mining Association, reported by lobbyist Michael Bowen.
o $15,711 for a Feb. 8 dinner at La Fonda sponsored by the New Mexico Oil & Gas Association Board of Directors, reported by lobbyists Michael D’Antonio.
o $10,340 for a Jan. 30 dinner at Restaurant Martin sponsored by Comcast, reported by lobbyist John Christopher.
o $10,052 for two events sponsored by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 480. One was a Super Bowl party at the Inn at Loretto on Feb. 5. The other was a “Film and TV Day” reception at the Pink Adobe on Feb. 13.
o $5,000 for a meeting and awards presentation to legislators by Conservation Voters New Mexico at the Rio Chama Steakhouse on Feb. 8
o $4,248 for a La Fonda reception for legislators, New Mexico Military Institute regents, staff and cadets, reported by lobbyist Natasha Ning.
o $2,040 for “Ms. Teddy Bear” dolls for legislators Feb. 9, paid for by the New Mexico Primary Care Association, reported by lobbyist David Roddy.
o $1,252 for a Feb. 3 luncheon at the Inn at Loretto, hosted by the New Mexico Gas Co. for members of the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee, reported by lobbyist La Vonda Jones.
o $1,072 for a Feb. 2 dinner at La Fonda hosted by Louisiana Energy Services, which operates a uranium enrichment facility in Southern New Mexico. Among the lawmakers listed in attendance are Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales; Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo; Rep. David Gallegos, R-Eunice; Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad; and Reps. Bob Wooley and Candy Spence Ezzell, both R-Roswell.
Contact Steve Terrell at 505-986-3037 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his political blog at www.santafenewmexican.com/news/blogs/politics.