SANTA FE – Spurred by the scandal surrounding former Secretary of State Dianna Duran, House Democrats on Tuesday proposed a package of ethics-related bills, including one designed to ensure that elected officials convicted of felonies lose their pensions.
Also in the mix: an upgraded campaign finance reporting system, a requirement to report inaugural spending, and another run at the perennial proposal to create an independent ethics commission.
“The time is now. We know what to do. We know how to do it,” House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, told a news conference outside the Secretary of State’s Office.
The legislators hope Duran’s recent conviction and forthcoming sentencing for embezzlement and other crimes will revive public interest in ethics legislation and provide some momentum for its passage in the 30-day session that starts Jan. 19.
But there’s a big hurdle right off the bat. The session is restricted to budget and tax matters and whatever else Republican Gov. Susana Martinez puts on the agenda.
Her spokesman, Michael Lonergan, said that the governor “has always been open to discussing various proposals on these issues,” but that no final determination has been made about the agenda for 2016.
House Speaker Don Tripp, R-Socorro, said the Republican majority hadn’t discussed prospective ethics legislation yet.
Duran, a Republican, resigned last month and pleaded guilty to putting her campaign contributions to personal use. She is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 14.
Although a 2012 law allows a judge to fine convicted public officials up to the value of their salaries and fringe benefits, it doesn’t specify pensions. Attorney General Hector Balderas said the law lacks teeth and wasn’t usable against Duran, who is eligible for pensions for her service in the Legislature, the Otero County Clerk’s Office and the Secretary of State’s Office.
Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, called the current law unclear and “clunky.” He proposes to automatically yank all pensions for elective service from officials convicted of felonies related to running for office or holding office.
Under another bill, committees that raise money for governors’ inaugural festivities would have to register with the secretary of state and report contributions and expenditures. Contribution amounts would be limited.
“This is an area where money intersects with politics, and it’s virtually gone ignored far too long,” said Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque. Although governors-elect may voluntarily choose to disclose donors, their addresses, occupations and employers are not disclosed and it’s not reported how the money is spent, he added.
Gov. Martinez’s top political adviser, Jay McCleskey, is facing a federal grand jury investigation that at least partly involves how money was raised and spent for her 2010 inauguration.
Egolf is proposing an upgraded campaign finance reporting system based on the Federal Election Commission system, with software that could immediately catch reporting errors and allow better tracking of contributions.
An independent ethics commission would investigate complaints against legislators and members of the executive branch. The judiciary is already covered by the Judicial Standards Commission.