Mark Duran spends virtually every day inside the New Mexico state Capitol during a 60-day legislative session. But now, Duran is learning to adapt to a virtual environment amid a pandemic that prompted state officials to move most lawmaking over to the internet and keep the building closed to the public and others, including lobbyists like Duran who are a mainstay when the Legislature meets in Santa Fe. “As a lobbyist who is used to being in that building, sometimes 18 hours a day, the first thing that I am doing is accepting that this is a virtual legislative session, as hard as it is to accept,” said Duran, who has been a lobbyist in New Mexico for some 35 years. Duran and other registered lobbyists said this year’s legislative session, which began last week with masked lawmakers separated by Plexiglas partitions between their desks, is a big adjustment for people in an industry whose bread and butter is face-to-face interaction. No more handshakes.
Lobbyists will be a topic of discussion during this year’s legislative session but won’t be physically present to make their case when lawmakers once again consider measures requiring greater disclosure about their advocacy efforts. They include requiring lobbyists or their employers to list the bills they lobbied on and the position they took, as well as the reporting of all money spent to influence state policy, including all compensation paid to a lobbyist. A report issued by New Mexico Ethics Watch last year states lobbyists exert considerable influence at the Capitol. “Perennially powerful lobbyists still know how to expertly play the inside game, catering to legislators, using their access to legislators, and leveraging the timing of meetings and last-minute amendments to their advantage,” the report states. According to the report, a few legislators try to strengthen lobbying laws every year — “only to have their legislation stalled in committees, amended to be toothless, or amended to make disclosure and other requirements so onerous that legislators can’t possibly vote for the proposals.”
State Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, said he hopes a pair of bills he plans to reintroduce this year to make lobbying more transparent will get a friendlier reception from a new set of freshman lawmakers.
There are about 700 registered lobbyists bustling around the Capitol this year. What are they working on? They don’t have to say. A Senate committee shot down legislation on Wednesday that would have required lobbyists to report which bills they are working on. House Bill 131 also would have barred lobbyists from making any expenditures on legislators while they are in session.
Lobbyists may end up reporting far less of their spending on lawmakers under a bill lauded for improving the state’s campaign finance system. House Bill 105, signed into law by Gov. Susana Martinez on Monday, aims to make it easier for the public to access information about campaign contributions and lobbyists’ reporting. But the bill also ends a requirement that lobbyists report cumulative spending on lawmakers, and increases the limit for reporting from $75 to $100 per event. The original legislation struck the cumulative total requirement. The House Government, Elections & Indian Affairs Committee increased the reporting limit, a change that made it through two more committees as well as the full House of Representatives and Senate.
Lobbyists and their employers spent $236,828 on gifts, wining and dining for elected officials, their guests and staff during the 2016 legislative session. And that’s only a portion of what was spent during the 30-day session because it captures only those times lobbyists spent $500 or more on a single event.
We’ll know more about how entertained lawmakers were during the 30-day session when lobbyists and employers make their full reports on May 1. If Gov. Susana Martinez signs House Bill 105, lobbyists will have to file reports again in October. Right now lobbyists file full reports only in January and May. Last year, during a session twice as long, lobbyists reported spending nearly $300,000 during the session.
While ethics reform was on everyone’s mind when the 2016 Legislative Session began, the increased attention didn’t mean increased success in passing ethics bills. There were some small successes. The House will archive proceedings and a bill to streamline campaign finance reporting is on Gov. Susana Martinez’s desk. But the real ethics news was the crown jewel of ethics legislation—an independent ethics commission—once again failed after heading over to the Senate. And a bill to shine the light on so-called “dark money” failed on the House side.
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.
Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed two pieces of legislation but signed 24 more on Tuesday as the deadline to make a decision nears. Martinez vetoed legislation that would reduce time on probation for those with good behavior. The legislation passed both chambers unanimously. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, told New Mexico Political Report last week he hoped Martinez would sign the legislation, part of the criminal justice reform slate. “The point is to alleviate the stress of the probation department,” Maestas said at the time.
A bill that would prohibit lawmakers from becoming lobbyists for two years after leaving their respective position passed the House on a bipartisan vote of 57 to 10. Eight Republican and two Democratic members voted against the bill. HB 241, sponsored by Reps. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque, and Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, would require lawmakers leaving their positions to wait two years before accepting compensation for lobbying services. Of the ten legislators who voted against the bill, only one asked the sponsor questions.
A poll of members of the business community in New Mexico finds that they support a ban on legislators working as lobbyists for two years after they leave their position in government. The results came from a poll conducted by Research and Polling, Inc. for the Committee for Economic Development. The poll was conducted last month and surveyed over 300 business leaders in the state, according to a press release announcing the poll and spoke about issues with lobbying and political donors and their effect on legislators and other elected officials. The full results of the poll are available here and are embedded below. CED is a non-profit group that describes itself as “a nonpartisan, business-led public policy organization.”