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Editorial: Let’s shut New Mexico’s revolving lobbyist door

For those who have long argued that New Mexico politics can get too cozy, House Bill 241 is the breath of fresh air they have been waiting for. For those who appreciate cronyism and old-boy networking, the air in and around the Roundhouse is just fine, thank you very much.

HB 241, sponsored by freshman Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque, would stop the revolving door of state official-turned-lobbyist and establish a two-year cooling-off period for former statewide elected officials, Public Regulation commissioners, legislators and cabinet secretaries to be paid by lobbyist groups, whether they actively lobby or not.

Currently, the old desk chairs can still be warm when their ex-occupants start collecting checks and bending the ears of their barely ex-colleagues. (Hence the pejorative “revolving-door” term for those who walk in to regulate/legislate and walk out to influence regulation and legislation.)

This isn’t the first try at a cooling-off period; similar bills sponsored by Democrats have died in previous sessions. Yet the rationale of last-year’s sponsor still rings true. Then-Rep. Emily Kane, D-Albuquerque, observed “I think it confuses the public – they don’t like the idea that perhaps we were leading them along and had different intentions at heart.”

Under HB 241 former officials and lawmakers would still be able to advocate for their own strong beliefs; the fiscal impact report says it “does not restrict the former elected or appointed officials from lobbying without compensation on issues they are interested in. It does not appear to infringe upon an individual’s First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of association.”

It just keeps groups from purchasing their ability to influence.

Gov. Susana Martinez supports a two-year cooling-off period; she has banned administration officials from lobbying executive state agencies or the Legislature for two years after leaving their jobs.

And at least 32 states have enacted some limitation on when a former legislator can come back to work at the Legislature as a lobbyist. According to the fiscal impact report, “statutes range from Maryland, where the ban is until the conclusion of the next regular session, to eight states – Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, and New York – that ban former legislators for two years.”

Dines’ bill unanimously passed the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee and is scheduled to go before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

Unless and until such a ban is codified in New Mexico statute, the revolving door and the lack of faith it instills in the public here will continue spinning.

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.

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