Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

New Mexico bill to restrict lobbyist ‘revolving door’ advances

In this file photo, Jennifer Chavez of Building Services prepares the Capitol for the 60-day session. (Eddie Moore/)

SANTA FE — A proposal moving through the Senate would prohibit former legislators and appointees working under the governor from returning immediately to the Roundhouse as paid lobbyists.

Supporters said it would stop a “revolving door’ that erode’s public trust.

The measure narrowly survived its first committee hearing, advancing past the Senate Rules Committee on a 6-4 vote.

The measure — sponsored by Sen. Harold Pope Jr., D-Albuquerque — was initially aimed only at keeping legislators from lobbying their ex-colleagues for two years after the end of their term. An amendment expanded the scope to include some members of the executive branch.

The legislative prohibition, Pope said, would ensure lawmakers aren’t compromised by the promise of a lucrative job after they step down. The two-year ban would also prevent ex-lawmakers from selling their contacts and relationships to the highest bidder, he said.

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“It seriously threatens the integrity of the legislative process,” Pope told his colleagues.

His legislation was sharply expanded Monday by an amendment sponsored by Republican Sen. Mark Moores of Albuquerque.

The change — supported by Pope — adds employees who serve at will under the governor to the two-year lobbying ban.

“My amendment really addresses the perception of corruption you’re talking about,” Moores said.

The debate didn’t fall precisely along party lines — either in the final vote or over whether to expand the scope to include some executive branch employees.

Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, supported the amendment but opposed the bill overall. He asked whether there’s any real harm if a former legislator is paid to advocate for a good cause, such as a charitable group.

“I know there’s this perception that somehow lobbyists are bad,” he said. But “there is a place for them. They do a lot of good.”

He also said it would be easy get around the bill. An ex-legislator could take a job as the executive director of an advocacy group and contended they’re not being paid to lobby.

“It’s just not enforceable,” he said.

At least 20 former legislators and state officials are among the hundreds of people registered to lobby this session, though many of them served several years ago.

Among the more recent additions to the lobbying corps is former Rep. Kelly Fajardo, a Republican who didn’t seek reelection last year. One of her clients is an advocacy group pushing to open New Mexico’s primary elections to independents, a measure she also supported as a legislator.

Proposals to restrict lobbying by former legislators have repeatedly failed at the Roundhouse over the last decade.

Whether the expansion Monday to cover some executive branch employees will help or hurt the bill’s prospects is unclear.

Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, voted in favor of the final bill but opposed the amended scope.

“You need a second bill for this,” he said of the expansion to include governor’s employees.

Pope’s measure, Senate Bill 34, now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee, potentially its last before the full Senate. It would also have to go through the House to reach Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk.

State law already outlines some restrictions on executive branch employees who lobby. They cannot represent a client before their former employer for one year after leaving state employment.

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