“We are pleased and excited that the 2019 legislature has fulfilled a promise to the New Mexico voters to establish an independent ethics commission,” Heather Ferguson, executive director, Common Cause New Mexico, said. Three quarters of NM voters last November voted to put an ethics commission in the state constitution, but it was up to the legislature to set it up.
The ethics commission has been a subject of debate in the legislature for decades as a number of high-profile convictions have captured headlines and sent public officials to prison.
“This has been a long time coming and it would not have been possible without the hard work of dedicated legislators—past and present,” Ferguson said. “We particularly want to thank Rep. Daymon Ely, Rep. Greg Nibert, Sen. Mimi Stewart, Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto and especially Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth and House Speaker Brian Egoff. Former Rep. Jim Dines was also crucial in the passage of the constitutional amendment.”
If signed by the Governor, the seven-member commission will hear complaints from citizens about violations of the campaign reporting act, the financial disclosure act, the gift act, the lobbyist regulation act, the voter action act, the governmental conduct act, the procurement code, and the state ethics commission act by state executive and legislative employees and officials, candidates, lobbyists and government contractors.
The commission will investigate complaints, hold public hearings and make its decisions, complaints and settlements public within a specified time frame after probable cause is found to exist. It will issue advisory opinions and cooperate with other state agencies charged with enforcing campaign finance and other laws. The commission does not have subpoena power, but must request subpoenas through a designated judge. It can levy fines and penalties for civil violations of the laws over which it has jurisdiction and refer criminal matters to the Attorney General.
The coalition pushing for the bill included Common Cause New Mexico, New Mexico Ethics Watch, the League of Women Voters, New Mexico First, the Association of Commerce and Industry, the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, and the NM Foundation for Open Government.