Ethics Commission wants NM disclosure law enforced - Albuquerque Journal

Ethics Commission wants NM disclosure law enforced

The Roundhouse in Santa Fe. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – More than 20% of the individuals required to file annual disclosures about their income sources and property – a group that includes public officials and candidates in New Mexico – haven’t done so, according to the State Ethics Commission.

The ethics agency authorized its staff Friday to issue demand letters to about 155 people who haven’t filed the mandatory disclosures and to go to court if necessary to enforce the law.

Jeremy Farris, executive director of the State Ethics Commission, said the compliance rate was even worse before the Secretary of State’s Office and ethics commission staff worked to notify people who hadn’t filed.

At one point this year, he said, hundreds of the 650 people required to file disclosures hadn’t done so. The figure is down to about 155 now – a rate Farris described as “unacceptable,” especially since the individuals have been notified of the problem.

“Financial disclosures are essential to public confidence in government,” he said in a statement to the Journal. “New Mexico law requires state agency heads and Senate-confirmed members of boards and commissions to file annual financial disclosures as a condition of holding their offices.”

The ethics commission, Farris said, “authorized all necessary action to ensure that those government officials who are required to disclose, in fact, do so.”

The vote was unanimous. The State Ethics Commission – an independent panel that includes members appointed by the governor and legislative leaders – requires bipartisan support to take action.

Treasurer settlement

Also Friday, the commission adopted a settlement agreement with State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg after he was accused in an ethics complaint of failing to disclose his role in a business that helps property owners protest their tax assessments.

As part of the settlement, Eichenberg agreed to answer a series of questions from the commission’s general counsel and to amend his public disclosures, if necessary.

The commission then ordered dismissal of the complaint.

The allegations centered on whether he had fully disclosed his role with New Mexico Property Tax, an Albuquerque-based company.

Eichenberg, a Democrat in his eighth year as treasurer, lists on his annual financial disclosure that he is a manager of “NMPT,” a consulting firm – one of three business interests of $10,000 or more that he disclosed.

The ethics complaint, filed by a Bernalillo resident, said the disclosure is misleading.

Eichenberg, in a written response to questions from the commission, said he isn’t an employee of the property tax business but that he receives a share of the net profits, if there are any.

He also said neither he nor the company has represented any clients before the State Treasurer’s Office or certain state boards he is a member of.

Helen Bennett, an attorney for Eichenberg, said the treasurer had done nothing wrong and was happy to more specifically disclose his role with the firm and answer questions. He won’t have to amend his financial disclosure statements, she said, because he isn’t an employee of the tax firm.

Proposed changes

The ethics agency has been pushing for some time to strengthen New Mexico’s disclosure law. It proposed an updated version of the law, which may be taken up by legislators next year.

As it stands now, hundreds of legislators, candidates, appointees and others are required to file annual disclosures covering their employers, income sources, real estate holdings and similar information – a measure of transparency intended to shine a light on potential conflicts of interest.

Income sources over $5,000 must be reported.

But critics describe the requirements as vague and rarely enforced. Many lawmakers, for example, report their income without much specificity, saying they draw income from a law firm, consulting, farming or similarly broad categories.

Transparency for legislators is particularly important, analysts say, because New Mexico has a “citizen Legislature” – meaning lawmakers don’t draw legislative salary and usually hold day jobs in other fields.

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