Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Editor’s note: The spending data available for download on the state website didn’t capture all of the reported spending.
SANTA FE – Lobbyists and their clients reported about $151,000 in spending this session – more than $5,000 a day on dinners, receptions and other goodies for New Mexico lawmakers.
And that’s just part of the spending. More-detailed reports are due in May.
The largest expenditure reported during the 2020 session was $28,000 – a golf promotion for legislators, paid for by the New Mexico Golf Tourism Alliance. The group usually provides free golf passes.
Lawmakers didn’t go hungry, either. Members of at least three legislative committees – including Senate Finance and House Judiciary – enjoyed meals courtesy of lobbyists.
A broad range of groups also invited lawmakers to pricey receptions at hotels.
The spending is disclosed in filings with the Secretary of State’s Office. Lobbyists and their employers must report any spending that exceeds $500 during a legislative session.
Among the biggest spenders this year were Conservation Voters New Mexico, Presbyterian Health Plan, Comcast and two universities – all of which held events or dinners for lawmakers.
Labor unions and energy companies also reported sizable spending.
But what’s not reported might be more interesting.
Lobbyists aren’t required to report which specific bills they’re supporting or opposing, and they often don’t reveal which legislators they met or shared a meal with.
“It’s a glaring hole” in the disclosure system, Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, said in an interview Wednesday.
He said he will push again next session to expand the disclosure requirements for lobbyists. One priority, Steinborn said, is for lobbyists to reveal which bills they’re working on.
It’s information that would be helpful not just to the public, he said, but also to the legislators themselves – who aren’t always aware of which company or group is behind a certain proposal.
“We know a lot of influencing happens outside of the committee room,” Steinborn said. “It happens before you get to Santa Fe. It happens on the telephone. It happens in a café or a coffee shop.”
A report issued by the nonpartisan New Mexico Ethics Watch last month examined the “outsized influence” of lobbyists in the Legislature. The group noted that the lobbying ranks are filled with former legislators and their family members, creating strong personal ties between lawmakers and the people paid to influence them.
Ethics Watch recommended a series of steps to boost transparency – including requiring disclosure of how much lobbyists are paid and which bills they support or oppose.
“It’s important for the public to know who’s working to influence or educate – influence legislation or educate legislators,” Kathleen Sabo, executive director of Ethics Watch, said Wednesday.
New Mexico lawmakers finished a 30-day session last week. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has until March 11 to act on most bills.
Spending reports filed during the session show:
• Conservation Voters New Mexico spent about $17,000 for an event at the Inn & Spa at Loretto, where the group honored Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, with its annual Luminaria Award.
• LES, an energy company, spent about $2,200 for dinner at Inn of the Anasazi for about a dozen legislators and two Cabinet secretaries. LES is affiliated with Urenco, which built a uranium enrichment facility in southeastern New Mexico.
• Presbyterian Health Plan spent about $16,000 on dinner at the Hilton Santa Fe for legislators, Presbyterian board members and others.
• The University of New Mexico and Eastern New Mexico University each spent about $10,000 for legislative receptions or meet-and-greet events at Santa Fe hotels.