New Mexico legislators eat, lobbyists treat, but public left guessing who
Lobbyists reported spending more than $64,000 on meals, drinks, travel and more for state officials during the last five months.
But because of a loophole in New Mexico law, lobbyists for the most part do not have to disclose which officials they have been lobbying.
More than $43,000 in expenditures were reported without naming any particular policymakers or issues lobbyists are working on.
Legally, lobbyists did not even have to disclose that much.
So, although the latest round of filings by lobbyists last week points to tens of thousands of dollars spent on wining and dining policymakers, the representatives of companies and special interests remain largely free to conceal the issues they are advocating for and the policymakers they are trying to influence.
State law says lobbyists must report expenditures of more than $100. But that only means any single expense, such as a dinner or sporting event ticket, worth more than $100.
A lobbyist does not have to report buying dinner for a legislator if the bill comes to $99. Some lobbyists have reported smaller expenditures, but have cited the law to avoid disclosing exactly whom they were lobbying.
The top-spending lobbyist during the last five months, Arthur Hull, reported spending $14,424 on meals and beverages. According to the Secretary of State’s Office, he represents more than 21 clients, from the Public Service Company of New Mexico to GlaxoSmithKline, Pew Charitable Trust and the University of New Mexico.
Rather than itemizing that spending and specifying which legislators he was lobbying and on what issues, Hull reported a lump sum each month. He stated that the recipients were “various” with no expense reaching $100.
The second-biggest spender among lobbyists was Vanessa Alarid. She represents about 10 clients, including the gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety, the gambling company IGT and telecommunications giant AT&T.
Alarid reported spending $11,522 on meals and beverages, but she did not name any policymaker nor did she specify which issues she discussed with them.
Other lobbyists reported bigger ticket items.
Mark Duran, who represents 13 clients, including the city of Santa Fe and United Healthcare Services, reported spending $4,464 on a reception for New Mexicans for Michelle Lujan Grisham. She is the Democratic nominee for governor.
Richard Romero, who represents the charter school group Excellent Schools New Mexico, reported spending more than $6,000 to take a half-dozen legislators on visits to charter schools in San Antonio, Texas, and Denver.
Lobbyists even dined with legislators who will not be returning to the Capitol for the next session.
A lobbyist for New Mexico Gas Co. reported spending a total of $726.48 on dinner and a reception at La Caille, a French-Belgian restaurant in Sandy, Utah, near where legislators gathered in September for a meeting of the Council of State Governments. On the tab was Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Española, who lost a primary election in June and whose term will end in January.
Some lobbyists are relatively thorough.
A lobbyist for Sacred Wind Communications reported spending $84.71 on breakfast foods for the Legislature’s Science, Technology and Telecommunications Committee — an expense so small it did not have to be disclosed.
A representative of the Association of Commerce and Industry reported buying meals for the Water and Natural Resources Committee and the Economic and Rural Development Committee, specifying exactly which groups of lawmakers she was targeting.
Still, it is impossible to know just how much individual companies and special interest groups are spending to influence legislators.
The loophole was borne from a 2016 bill that required lobbyists to file their disclosures online. But as the bill wound through legislative committees, lawmakers raised the threshold for itemizing expenditures from $75 to $100. In the process, they also stripped away language requiring disclosure of expenditures under $100.
“It’s a big, big loophole,” said state Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces.
He sponsored legislation in 2017 that would have required lobbyists to disclose the cumulative total of expenses under $100.
Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed the measure, writing that it was ambiguous and could have “several unintended consequences.”
Legislators often say that free dinners do not buy their votes. But for critics, time that policymakers spend with lobbyists is time they are not spending with constituents.
The Legislature has shown little appetite for requiring more disclosure from lobbyists. For example, a measure Steinborn sponsored this year that would have required lobbyists to report which bills they were working on at the Capitol. The bill did not get out of a single committee, dying quietly in Senate Rules for lack of support.
“Hopefully, our next governor will be committed to full transparency and full disclosure of all lobbying expenses,” Steinborn said.
Clients: 3M Company, American Medical Response, Century Bank, Davita, Devon Energy Corporation, Fidelity Investments, FPL Energy, LLC. (NextEra Energy), Glaxo SmithKline, Greenwich Biosciences, Inc., HME Specialists LLC., Hull Consulting LLC, Maximus, Inc., Mescalero Apache Tribe, Native Trading Associates, New Mexico Child Care Educational Association, Pew Charitable Trust, Physicians for Fair Coverage, PNM, SAS Institute, SBH-EL PASO LLC dba Peak Behavioral Health Services, Smith Bagley, Inc. dba Cellular One of North East, University of New Mexico
Clients: Alarid Consulting, Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Auth, AT&T, Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, Garrett Development Corporation, IGT and Its Affiliates, Kenny Thomas Enterprise, New Mexico Independent Automobile Dealers Assoc., New Mexico State Treasurer’s Office, Pfizer, Inc.
Spent: $7,482.69, mostly on behalf of Excellent Schools New Mexico.
Recipients: Rep. Patricio Ruiloba, Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, Sen. Bill Tallman, Rep. Georgene Lewis, Sen. Cisco McSorley
Clients: ACE leadership High School, Albuquerque School of Excellence, Altura Prepartary School, Carino De los Ninos Charter School, Cesar Chavez Charter School, Cien Aguas Green School Project (CAGSP), El Camino Real Academy, Excellent Schools NM, Inquiry Facilitators, INC., La Academia de Esperanza, New Mexico Speech/Language & Hearing Assoc., NM Association of Educational Retirees 1, NMX Sports, Nuestros Valores Charter School, Retired Public Employees of New Mexico, South Valley Academy, Southwest Secondary Learning Center, The Ask Academy, The International School at Mesa del Sol, Turquoise Trail Charter School