Allison Kuper-Smith, a lobbyist for the New Mexico Restaurant Association, speaks during the December special session prior to a meeting of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. The proposals of this year’s session aim at higher transparency requirements for legislators and lobbyists. (Eddie Moore / )
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SANTA FE – The state ethics committee is proposing changes to the law that would require lawmakers to publish more information about their personal sources of income and business relationships.
Independently of this, the agency also recommends increased transparency requirements for lobbyists, such as the disclosure of which draft laws they are working on and which provisions they are in favor of or against.
Legislators – a handful of whom are married to lobbyists – would also have to disclose before the vote whether a family member has campaigned for a bill.
Together, the recommendations are intended to shed light on potential conflicts in the roundhouse, where individual legislators have few staff and lobbyists play a decisive role in shaping legislation.
“Over the years, several cases of ethics violations have tarnished New Mexico’s reputation, and most of them could have been prevented through stricter disclosure laws,” said Heather Ferguson, executive director of the non-partisan Common Cause New Mexico.
The New Mexico legislature is the only state legislature in the country with no salary, despite receiving daily payments, reimbursements, and the opportunity to participate in a pension system during legislative sessions. The daily rate, based on the Bundestag money, is 173 to 202 USD, depending on the season.
The low pay means most MPs are retired or have jobs that allow them to take breaks for 30 or 60 days annual sessions in Santa Fe, in addition to the less formal sessions held year-round.
In an annual report released last month, the State Ethics Commission, an independent regulatory agency, described the existing public officials’ income disclosure law as “vague and undemanding.”
The Commission proposes repealing the law and replacing it with the disclosure law proposed by the Commission.
As of now, state lawmakers are exposed to extensive disclosure requirements for sources of income above $ 5,000. For example, many report receiving income from a law firm, agriculture and ranching, or similar general categories.
Sonny Haquani, an ethics committee spokesman, said the agency worked with the offices of the foreign minister, attorney general and state auditor on the proposed disclosure law to request more accurate reporting.
The changes “would allow the public to identify conflicts of interest and deter violations of public trust,” he said in a statement to the Journal.
State auditor Brian Colón, a Democrat, announced his support for the proposal in December.
“The increased disclosures will help deter public corruption and increase public confidence in the government,” he said in a written statement.
The disclosure comes after then-majority leader of the House, Sheryl Williams Stapleton, an Albuquerque Democrat who worked for the school district, resigned earlier this year on a criminal investigation.
She was later charged with extortion, money laundering, unlawful interest in a public contract, and exploiting her legislative position to obtain promotion in Albuquerque public schools. One of the allegations against her is transferring funds for apprenticeship training at APS to companies and charities in which she has been involved.
Stapleton and her lawyer have denied the charges, saying they will fight to clear her name.