With this report, Common Cause New Mexico and New Mexico Ethics Watch examine the influence the oil and gas industry asserts upon New Mexico politics and legislation.
As with other reports on lobbying, we show how money spent by the industry may translate into favorable voting, legislation, and regulation, as well as the election of industry-supporting candidates.
The money spent by the oil and gas industry in the political sphere – some $11.5 million from 2017 to 2020 – may reap benefits… but for whom? Does the more than $11 million spent on elections and legislative efforts keep the royalty rates down and translate into tens of millions for the industry rather than for the state? Does the smooth running of the industry result in billions of dollars to assist New Mexico’s ailing public schools, hospitals, and higher education?
The answer to these last two questions is probably a resounding “Yes!” and illustrates the competing and incongruent processes and realities New Mexico’s policymakers must grapple with regarding the industry… particularly as the state moves toward a more balanced energy economy.
For now, the industry pours oceans of money into the state economy – a fact not lost upon the industry, its workers, citizens, and politicians.
The oil and gas industry’s cadre of lobbyists is one of the largest in the state. The lobbyists spend freely and court both Democrats and Republicans while seeking support for industry-favorable legislation and regulation.
We have documented here approximately $4.3 million in direct contributions from the industry to New Mexico candidates, committees, and PACs from 2017-2020 and another $3.75 million from the industry’s lobbyists. Industry-related PACs have spent $3.4 million. It is not chump change in a small, low-income state like New Mexico, and the amount would increase dramatically if lobbyist compensation were included. Currently, New Mexico does not require this disclosure.
In addition, we have researched 98 corporations, 262 individuals, 23 associations, 11 PACs, and almost 100 lobbyists active – some would say very active – in New Mexico from 2017-2020.
$4.3 MILLION – DIRECT CONTRIBUTIONS
$3.75 MILLION – LOBBYIST CONTRIBUTIONS
$3.4 MILLION – PAC SPENDING
APPROXIMATELY $11.5 MILLION TOTAL
~100 ACTIVE LOBBYISTS
APPROXIMATELY 500 ENTITIES
For the average citizen, or even smaller companies who cannot give $5,500 to candidates or PACs (the amount regularly given by companies and individuals associated with the industry because it is the maximum allowable), the industry’s contributions are not a drop in the bucket. It leaves citizens wondering if the industry is buying its way out of increased royalties, additional regulations – even studies of the true costs of its activities.
We see the money spent by the industry to defeat candidates who seem less than favorable to the industry – approximately $2 million spent in opposition to the current State Land Commissioner and in support of her industry-supporting opponent. We hear of the intimidation felt by legislators to support the industry and attend its events, and we see the attacks upon those who resist and oppose industry efforts coming from every direction — the media, the party caucus, the larger business community.
We have here tracked the relationship between industry donations to policy makers and the outcome of specific legislation in the 2019 legislative session. Our analysis of the actions of two committees on important bills demonstrates that representatives who acted in accordance with the industry’s preference on SB 398 to raise royalty rates received larger campaign contributions, on average, than legislators who did not. Senators, on the Senate Conservation Committee, which refused to even take a vote on the fracking moratorium, collectively received $68,717 from the industry.
What’s the payoff for supporting the industry? Contributions to campaigns can mean the difference between election or defeat. But when this outsized reliance on an industry for campaign support results in your election victory, whom do you serve – the citizens of New Mexico or the industry?
Some candidates have refused or limited contributions from the oil and gas industry to their campaigns…but none are willing to turn down the money flowing into the state’s coffers from the industry. These profits come from our state’s natural resources, and we are dependent on them — as candidates, public officials, and citizens. The only question becomes whether the extraction of the resources is hurting our state more than helping. To many, the answer falls easily on the helping side of the equation. Time will tell.
For now, though, we see the continued efforts by the oil and gas industry to support favorable legislation and industry-supporting candidates continue to pay dividends to the industry and to make the millions of dollars spent on lobbying and candidate contributions worth the industry’s expense.