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Watchdog says financial disclosures missing for NM candidates, officials

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A new review by an independent ethics watchdog found continued shortcomings in New Mexico’s system for disclosing the financial interests of public officials.

New Mexico Ethics Watch, a nonpartisan group, found about a dozen disclosures missing from the Secretary of State’s Office website – either because the officials didn’t file the required forms or because they weren’t published on the site.

Kathleen Sabo, executive director of Ethics Watch, said the public deserves a chance to view complete, accurate financial information for public officials and candidates for office.

Ethics Watch recommended the Legislature update and strengthen the Financial Disclosure Act and that the Secretary of State’s Office, which handles the forms, pursue enforcement against people who fail to comply.

“It is time for filers, enforcement agencies and the Legislature to get it right,” Sabo said in a written statement. “Voters are being denied full access to what could be a useful tool in making educated choices at the polls.”

Her group found problems all three times it reviewed the disclosure system over the past two years.

In February, for example, Ethics Watch found that out of 55 state board and commissions whose members are required to file annual financial disclosures, just three were fully compliant with state law the previous year.

And in 2017, the group said the law itself isn’t strong enough to prevent conflicts of interest.

“We can do better – what a great tool this could be for voters,” Sabo said in an interview.

The law requires elected officials, Cabinet secretaries, appointees and candidates to disclose their income sources, property ownership and business interests at least once a year, usually in January.

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