SANTA FE — Lobbying the Legislature usually means picking up the tab for dinners and receptions for lawmakers, but a union representing teachers and other education workers took a different approach this year by focusing on voters.
The American Federation of Teachers-New Mexico spent $361,000 on an advertising campaign to promote an early childhood education proposal — an amount that nearly matched the combined expenditures by lobbyists for food, drinks, gifts and entertainment for lawmakers, their staff and other state officials during the first four months of the year.
The union and its political committee used mailings, radio ads and newspaper advertisements to try to build support among parents and other voters for a proposed constitutional amendment to increase state money for services to children under the age of 5.
The measure had the backing of a coalition of religious groups, unions, child-care providers and social advocacy organizations. It would have increased the yearly payout from the $10 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund and earmarked a portion of the money for early childhood programs.
Union President Christine Trujillo said statewide marketing was done “to ensure that people who are normally not involved or engaged in the political process would understand that this is a very basic request. We want to provide funding for kids who desperately need it.”
Money for the lobbying campaign came from a grant from the national union and Trujillo hopes the local chapter can get another allocation of money to renew its push for the early childhood education initiative in next year’s Legislature. If lawmakers approve the proposal, it would be placed on the general election ballot for voters to decide. It would not require the signature of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.
Rather than rely only on traditional face-to-face lobbying — as well as wining and dining — of lawmakers, AFT and others in New Mexico are trying to energize voters to call and write their legislators on a particular issue.
Martinez used similar tactics. She angered some Democrats this session by using money from her campaign committee — about $5,600, according to a report filed with the secretary of state — to pay for radio ads asking New Mexicans to call lawmakers and urge them to support her proposal to stop driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants.
A coalition of groups, some involved in the early childhood initiative, spent almost $12,000 in support of tax and budget proposals, including a corporate income tax change that advocates said could raise tens of millions of dollars from large multistate companies. Lobbying by the coalition, Better Choices New Mexico, included almost $8,500 for mailings to New Mexicans who are constituents of lawmakers on committees that handle financial issues. The fliers explained the corporate tax proposal and urged people to contact their legislator if they favored the initiative.
Sen. Peter Wirth, a Santa Fe Democrat who sponsored the corporate tax change, said there was more of that type of “advocacy” during this year’s legislative session.
“I think you’re seeing unions, teachers and environmental groups lobbying and educating in a far more aggressive way, because if they don’t, they’re going to get left on the sidelines,” said Wirth.
He attributed the change to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that has allowed corporations, unions and nonprofit groups to spend unlimited amounts of money advocating the election or defeat of candidates.
“With the influx of unregulated corporate money that is coming into the system, people in groups inside and outside of the roundhouse can no longer sit on the sidelines. They have got to engage,” said Wirth. “And to the extent that it’s bringing citizens into the process and opening the process up by letting people outside know what’s happening inside, then I’m fully in favor of it.”
Lobbyists and their clients spent slightly more than $373,000 from January through April 25, according to a computer-assisted analysis by The Associated Press of disclosure reports filed with the secretary of state’s office. Expenditures are up about 6 percent from 2009, when the Legislature last held a 60-day session, according to records maintained by the AP. The state does not tally total spending by lobbyists.
Nearly $4 of every $5 spent by lobbyists went for meals, drinks and “special events,” which usually are receptions and dinners in which all lawmakers or just members and staff of specific committees are invited.