NM scores poorly on government accountability

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico got a D-minus and tied for 34th among the states in an assessment by the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity of what state governments are doing to deter corruption.

The assessment of accountability and transparency, which relied on data collected in 13 categories, said that behind New Mexico’s score of 61 is “widespread and systemic weaknesses in overseeing ethics, campaign finance and lobbying.”

The top three states – Alaska, California and Connecticut – earned only C’s. Thirty-six states got D’s, while 11 got F’s.

According to a national overview from the organization, “in state after state, open records laws are laced with exemptions and part-time legislators and agency officials engage in glaring conflicts of interests and cozy relationships with lobbyists.”

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Understaffed watchdog groups, meanwhile, “struggle to enforce laws as porous as honeycombs,” the organization said.

It cited as an example the resolution the New Mexico Legislature passed in 2013 that lawmakers said was aimed at keeping their documents and emails private. It said the House and Senate and their committees “exercise authority collectively and not through the actions of individual members.”

However, the Legislative Council Service, the Legislature’s administrative arm and its records custodian, says the resolution hasn’t prevented the release of lawmakers’ emails, depending on the nature of the records request.

The center’s report, issued Monday, said that of all 50 states, New Mexico “has the widest gulf between the laws that are on the books and the vigor with which they’re implemented: the so-called ‘enforcement gap.’ ”

It said the state has no hard deadline to produce records, the Attorney General’s Office historically hasn’t made enforcement a priority and the Secretary of State’s Office historically has stressed “education” rather than enforcement.

The data, gathered in response to 245 specific measures, were compiled by New Mexico journalist Gwyneth Doland, former executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government. She said the data were turned in before embezzlement and other charges were filed against Secretary of State Dianna Duran, who resigned last month and pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds.

The Legislature also has failed to close the loopholes created by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case, allowing super PACs to “operate with extraordinary freedom,” Doland wrote. Super PACs are prohibited from coordinating with candidates but the state hasn’t defined coordination.

New Mexico fared well in a couple of categories, according to the report. It got a B-minus – and a ranking of 17th – for its internal auditing. And it got a C-minus – and a ranking of third – for judicial accountability, in part because of the work of the Judicial Standards Commission, which handles complaints of misconduct against judges.

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