Three Bills to Shed Light on lobbyist Activities, Compensation and Slow the Revolving Door used by Ex-Legislators

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With increased concern about the influence of paid lobbyists on the work of unpaid and understaffed legislators at the Roundhouse, Common Cause New Mexico is renewing its support for three measures designed to shed light on lobbyist activities.

Lobbyists vastly outnumber the 112 unpaid citizen legislators in Santa Fe. In 2019, the last open, long legislative session before COVID hit, there were 719 registered lobbyists representing 887 clients, according to Secretary of State records. That’s more than six lobbyists for every legislator. Among the lobbyists are many ex-legislators, who after retiring or losing elections, re-emerge at the Roundhouse. Lobbyists currently are required to report on expenditures and contributions, but important details are excluded.

The bills to tackle this issue are Senate Bill 34, sponsored by Sen. Harold Pope (D-Bernalillo), Senate Bills 217, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Steinborn (D- Dona Ana) and Sen. Gregg Schmedes (R-Santa Fe, Bernalillo, Torrance, Sandoval) and Senate Bill 218, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Steinborn (D-Dona Ana) and Sen. Mark Moores (R-Bernalillo).

Senate Bill 34 is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Rules Committee on Monday Jan. 30 at 8:30 am. It would prohibit lawmakers from accepting compensation as lobbyists for two years after their service in the New Mexico State Legislature.

“New Mexico politics are all about relationships,” says Mario Jimenez, executive director of Common Cause, “and it’s only natural that former legislators and even leaders have an inside track to influencing their recent colleagues with the knowledge they’ve accumulated.“

Jimenez says most states and the US congress have waiting periods to slow the revolving door between being a legislator and becoming a paid lobbyist.

“Lobbyists have a very legitimate place, but their influence should not be disproportionate, and legislators should not be auditioning for a high-paid positions after their unpaid public service,” he said.

SB 217, sponsored by Sens. Jeff Steinborn and Gregg Schmedes (R-Santa Fe, Bern., Sandoval, Torrance), requires lobbyists or lobbyist employers to disclose the total compensation paid to the lobbyist. Currently, lobbyists and the special interests which employ them must disclose contributions and expenditures for meals and gifts. But they do not have to reveal their own salaries or retainers, which can often be much more.

“The public needs to have a clearer picture of how much industries, non-profits, PACs and associations are paying to influence elected officials. The glimpse we have now is already quite revealing, but there is more to know,” said Mario Jimenez.

For example, Jimenez said that, according to a 2019 Common Cause/Ethics Watch study, the oil and gas industry spent $11.5 million here in campaign contributions, lobbying expenses and PAC activities from 2017-2020. But that did not include the compensation for the almost 100 lobbyists fielded by the industry from 2017-2020. “If you counted that, it would be even more,” he said.

Another gap in the public’s knowledge is exactly what bills lobbyists are supporting or opposing. Revealing that basic information is the goal of SB 218 sponsored by Sen. Steinborn and Sen. Mark Moores (R-Bernalillo). The measure would require lobbyists to disclose specific legislation lobbied, along with their position on the legislation and the employer(s) for whom they’re lobbing the legislation.

“Both legislators and the public would benefit from knowing who’s doing what,” Jimenez said. “Now it’s kind of a mystery, except to those in the know.”

Common Cause urges citizens concerned about transparency and curbing the power of lobbyists to call or write their legislators in support of Senate Bills 34, 217 & 218.

Common Cause is a nonpartisan grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. We work to create open, honest, and accountable government that serves the public interest; promote equal rights, opportunity, and representation for all; and empower all people to make their voices heard as equals in the political process.