On July 20, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spoke at a closed-door meeting of conservative state legislators and lobbyists, raising questions about his stated goals of transparency in federal government. Zinke, a former Montana congressman, spoke in Denver at the annual meeting for the American Legislative Exchange Council, an industry organization backed by Koch Industries and ExxonMobil and devoted to “limited government, free markets and federalism.”
ALEC, whose initiatives include a push for state control over federal lands, provides model bills for state legislatures and influences bills going through Congress. Because of the group’s funding sources and its interest in states holding public lands, conservationists see Zinke’s association with the group as problematic. Throughout his congressional confirmation process for the Department of Interior position, and in the early months of his job, Zinke has reiterated that he does not favor land transfers. “The things that Zinke has claimed he stood for, in terms of public lands, ALEC are the ones driving against that all these years,” says Aaron Weiss, media director at the Center for Western Priorities.
A handful of state senators explained to reporters this year’s death of a bill creating an independent ethics commission, contending it was more than their committee simply killing the measure. Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, said “a lot has been made about the actions of the [Senate] Rules Committee” suggesting actions that “the Rules committee has not taken.”
Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque, carried a bill that would have allowed general election voters to amend the state constitution to create an independent ethics commission to investigate corruption complaints against public officials. After passing the House, Dines withdrew his bill after disagreements with the Senate Rules Committee over changes made in a committee substitute that was never moved. Related Story: A brief history of the Legislature rejecting ethics commissions. Ivey-Soto contended that Senate proposals that would require people making complaints against public officials to be held under penalty of perjury for filing frivolous complaints were suggestions, not requirements.
A measure to give New Mexico an independent ethics commission passed its second test unanimously Tuesday afternoon, but not without long debate. The bill, carried by Rep Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque, establishes a body of nine people charged with weighing ethics complaints submitted to them against state government officials, employees and government contractors. Dines, a retired lawyer who in his second year as a legislator, said he supported such a commission long before he became a lawmaker. But he added that his short experience in the Roundhouse also helped shape his bill. “What I’ve learned is, I really think we need this for ourselves,” Dines told committee.
In 2010 Dianna Duran ran for secretary of state as a reform candidate who would clean things up in the wake of scandals that had plagued the office’s two previous occupants. As a county clerk in rural Otero County and later a state senator, Duran had earned a reputation for cool-headed competence. She was endorsed by most of the state’s newspapers and even the left-leaning editorial board at The Santa Fe New Mexican gave her a thumbs up, citing a “solid record of integrity.” When she won, Duran became the first Republican to hold the secretary of state’s office in 80 years. That was then. In late October, just a year into her second term, Duran, the state official in charge of overseeing elections, campaign finance and ethics, resigned and pleaded guilty to felony embezzlement charges related to personal use of campaign funds.
State lawmakers are coming under more scrutiny since New Mexico Secretary of State’s office recently started investigating a handful of state legislators for possible campaign finance violations. State Reps. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, Roger Madalena, D-Jemez Pueblo and Andy Nuñez, R-Hatch, are all under fire for discrepancies in their campaign finance reports. But perceived problems with campaign spending aren’t limited to them. New Mexico Political Report also found questionable campaign spending by state Reps.
A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday leaves the door open for a big change to New Mexico’s redistricting system–if legislators and voters choose to implement the changes. The nation’s high court ruled 5-4 on Monday that an independent redistricting commission in Arizona is constitutional. Arizona is one of sixteen states with similar processes for redistricting. Supporters of such commissions say that by taking the decision out of the hands of partisan politicians, oddly shaped districts designed to protect one party or politician will no longer be the norm. Opponents argued that this meant legislators would be abrogating their constitutional duty on making districts for elections.
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.