Good Government Groups Raise Objections to Senate Ethics Commission Bill
- Heather Ferguson Executive Director of CCNM c: 505-980-9086 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Kathleen Sabo Executive Director of NM Ethics Watch c: 274-2442
Common Cause New Mexico and NM Ethics Watch, two good government organizations working for several years to create a NM ethics commission, today raised concerns about a new bill introduced Thursday in the NM Senate sponsored by Sen. Linda Lopez.
“When 75% of NM voters said they wanted an ethics commission enshrined in the constitution last fall they didn’t expect the legislature to create a weak body, shrouded in secrecy with little enforcement power,” Heather Ferguson, executive director of Common Cause NM, said today.
“The commission envisioned in this bill conforms to few of the basic principles that NM Ethics Watch, Common Cause and other groups have put forward in working group meetings and at the start of the legislative session,” said Kathleen Sabo, director of NM Ethics Watch.
After constitutional amendments are adopted by voters, the legislature must enact enabling legislation spelling out specifics in law.
Sabo and Ferguson said that the proposed commission was weakened by:
- Inability of commission to punish wrongdoers beyond a simple reprimand or censure
- (Section 11D)
- The lack of subpoena power. The commission would have to petition district court to issue subpoenas to compel the testimony of witnesses or obtain needed information (Sect 9 G)
- A higher standard of proof for ethical violations, making it more difficult to charge and find public officials guilty of ethical violations (Section 11D)
- The lack of public access to hearings and complaints, exemptions from the Open Meetings and Inspection of Public Records Act and the institution of harsh penalties for those who make public information about complaints or decisions. ( Sect 8, Sect 11D, Section 12, Sect 16, Section 11F, Section 17)
- Inadequate funding to operate even a skeleton commission (Sect 19)
“Failure to create a strong, independent ethics commission with real power to hold public officials accountable for their actions will erode public trust and break a promise made to New Mexico,” Sabo and Ferguson said.