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Report flags ‘outsized influence’ of lobbyists

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – They buy lunch, dole out campaign contributions and enjoy plenty of success.

A report released Friday by an independent ethics watchdog explores the influence of lobbyists who work inside the Roundhouse.

Issued by New Mexico Ethics Watch, the 55-page report describes a culture in which the lobbying ranks are filled with relatives of legislators and even former lawmakers themselves.

Thirty-four ex-legislators are now lobbyists – creating a “revolving door” of sorts, in which someone might hold office one year then return the next as a lobbyist, according to the nonpartisan advocacy group. Another six lobbyists, the report says, are spouses or relatives of lawmakers.

“Personal relationships and family ties between legislators and lobbyists are an important part of NM’s legislative culture,” the report says. “They are backed up by a formidable arsenal of campaign contributions, meals at fancy restaurants, and special events in Santa Fe and out-of-state cities where legislators gather for national conferences.”

The report, “Lobbyists and Their Outsized Influence in New Mexico,” also says campaign contributions from lobbyists exploded to $4.8 million in 2018, or more than twice the $1.8 million contributed two years earlier.

The top clients of lobbyists – on whose behalf the contributions came – were the New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association, which donated $740,000 in 2018, and Chevron, the energy company, which contributed $540,000.

New Mexico Ethics Watch also identified about $795,000 in 2019 spending by lobbyists on meals, entertainment and gifts for legislators and candidates for office.

The report also says:

• Supporters of firearms restrictions are now outspending opponents. Everytown for Gun Safety emerged as a major player as the National Rifle Association reduced its spending.

“Overall, the influx of Everytown campaign contributions in the past three years – $455,500 – swamped the NRA and its allies, which spent $71,572.65,” the report says.

The NRA, however, exerted influence in other ways, the report says, working with sheriffs to organize opposition to gun-control legislation.

Lawmakers last year approved a background check bill, with a 22-20 vote in the Senate.

• The film and tobacco industries spent heavily as lawmakers approved new incentives for film production in New Mexico and gave cigars and e-cigarettes some breaks in a package of tax increases.

In the report, Ethics Watch recommended many measures to increase transparency and limit the influence of lobbyists. They include a two-year “cooling-off” period before a legislator can return as a paid lobbyist, a prohibition on lobbyist spending or campaign contributions before and during the session, and requiring disclosure of how much lobbyists are paid and which bills they support or oppose.

The report was written by former state Sen. Dede Feldman, Rouzi Guo, Lauren Hutchison, Tony Ortiz and Kathleen Sabo.

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