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Editorial: Egolf should change tune on conflict of interest

As an attorney, Brian Egolf should understand the importance of perception. And as the speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives, he should understand that, even if his voting on marijuana-related legislation meets the letter of the law, it does not mean a conflict of interest does not exist.

It clearly does.

He’s the attorney representing not only a medical marijuana patient, but also a licensed nonprofit producer and its management company – New Mexico Top Organics and Ultra Health Inc. – in a lawsuit filed last year against the state Health Department. The suit alleges the Health Department has improperly limited the production of cannabis, creating a supply shortage.

How can a lawmaker with clients who stand to benefit from the passage of, and suffer from the defeat of, bills to increase the number of plants medical marijuana providers can grow, expand the state’s medical cannabis program and legalize recreational pot say he can vote on them conflict-free?

Egolf says it’s almost impossible for attorneys serving in the Legislature to have clients who don’t interact with state government or laws passed by the Legislature in some way. It’s true that having a citizen Legislature can lead to more lawmakers with potential conflicts. At times, most will be called on to consider legislation that could benefit, or harm, a client, a co-worker, a friend, a business, etc., in some way.

But if there is a clear conflict, they should abstain from voting on those bills.

Even better, lawmakers should tighten the state Financial Disclosure Act to require more information on situations like Egolf’s because, as New Mexico Ethics Watch says, “The public should be able to know at a glance if there’s a conflict of interest.”

We should hold legislators, particularly those like Egolf who wield an added measure of power at the Roundhouse, to a high standard when it comes to conflicts of interest or potential conflicts of interest.

Whether they meet that standard is largely up to them – and voters.

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.