Ski passes for every legislator and the governor, “golf promotions” for all lawmakers, a $1,200 flamenco show and gift bags are some of the expenditures lobbyists reported for the recent legislative session. What’s missing from that reporting is the “why” behind those gifts.
This year lobbyists resumed their wining and dining for the first session in three years without COVID-19 restrictions. More detailed filings are due in May, but what we know so far is lobbyists and their employers spent $285,000 on lawmakers over a nine-week stretch of the 60-day session.
A National Rifle Association lobbyist reported spending $19,927 opposing a host of proposed firearms restrictions, a Pharmaceutical Care Management Association lobbyist reported spending $75,005 opposing two bills related to pharmacy benefits and prescription drug coverage, and a lobbyist for Animal Protection Voters reported spending $9,743 to lobby for a bill to make bestiality a crime.
While these reports were informative, the motives of other lobbyists were less clear. For example, Ski New Mexico gave out $28,500 of ski passes to the governor and all 112 legislators. Why?
“It’s not out of the goodness of their heart,” Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, said of meals lobbyists had delivered to the Roundhouse.
Steinborn and Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, cosponsored Senate Bill 218, which would have required lobbyists to disclose what bills they’re lobbying on and the position they’re taking. “You don’t know who was doing what to whom or for whom,” Moores says.
SB 218 advanced through the Senate Rules Committee by a 6-3 vote (opposed by Sens. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales and Gerald Ortiz y Pino and Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, both D-Albuquerque), and died in Senate Judiciary, chaired by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces.
Moores is optimistic things will change, noting proposals to disclose legislative sponsorship of capital outlay projects and supplemental spending bills have passed in recent years. But Steinborn says the Roundhouse still lacks “a culture of disclosure.”
Special interest groups absolutely have a right to petition their legislators. And it’s a lobbyist’s job to influence legislators. But not in the dark.
The public absolutely has a right to know what bills lobbyists are supporting or opposing as they shower lawmakers with gifts. Our representatives and senators need to recognize that and pass bipartisan legislation in the next session requiring lobbyists’ spending reports to provide such information.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.