New Mexico Legislators took in $16,000 before and during session due to loophole
New Mexico legislators raised about $16,000 for their campaigns during this year’s session and the weeks immediately before it thanks to a loophole in a state law that bans them from soliciting contributions while at the Capitol but allows them to accept donations.
The money came as lawmakers blocked a proposed law that would have closed the loophole and barred them from accepting donations at all during the session, solicited or not.
The state’s current campaign finance laws bar legislators from fundraising activities starting Jan. 1 of each year through the end of the session. The governor is barred from soliciting contributions until 20 days after each session, when she can no longer act on legislation. Lawmakers usually take donation buttons off their websites and pause fundraising emails.
But legislators can still accept money.
Donors during the so-called prohibited period this year included a mix of constituents chipping in a few dozen or a few hundred dollars at a time, as well as companies and trade associations, according to campaign finance reports published this week.
Pharmaceutical firms Pfizer and Celgene, the Ruidoso Downs Race Track and Casino, and health insurer Molina Health Care all made contributions to lawmakers during the session or the weeks before it.
Legislators weighed laws during the session that would affect those industries, from a proposal to allow alcohol on the gaming floor of racetrack casinos to a proposal for studying a statewide health insurance plan.
In all, 26 legislators received money during the prohibited period, The New Mexican found.
“It’s not the $50 check” that is the issue, said Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, who sponsored a bill to prohibit lawmakers from accepting donations during the prohibited period. “It’s the big check from somebody who’s got legislation pending. It seems like an obvious point.”
Some lawmakers argued the measure would create a lot of “gotcha” moments. A lawmaker, for example, might get a check in the mail during the session.
McQueen argued legislators could simply return the check in such cases with an explanation.
“Let’s just be above question. Let’s make it clear we’re not accepting money during the prohibited period,” he said.
The House passed McQueen’s bill without opposition this year. But the bill languished in the Senate. The Senate Rules Committee gutted the measure, scratching the proposed prohibition on accepting contributions during the session. And lawmakers adjourned March 16 before the bill ever got a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Either way, the prohibited period does not include political action committees linked to legislators.
The New Mexican found leadership PACs, linked to top Democratic and Republican lawmakers, raised around $80,000 during the session and the weeks immediately before it. Some of that money came from the campaigns of other politicians and from small donors. But some also came from businesses and industry groups.