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As I begin my 13th year as a legislator, I have seen New Mexico achieve progress on many important issues. Regretfully, one area where we continue to resist reform and lag behind other states is the need for full transparency regarding the role of lobbyists and those who hire them in the legislative process.
We continue to have a system where most lobbying activity and funding spent by companies and special interests to effect legislation are not disclosed to legislators or the public. This lack of disclosure contributes to critical information not being known by decision makers while policies are being made. The system invites corruption.
I often describe the job of a legislator as being a detective. While voting on bills, legislators must figure out the true purpose and effect behind each piece of legislation, often left wondering which company, industry or organization is behind it. Not knowing these details prevents elected officials and the public from effectively doing their job to properly scrutinize each proposal.
Because lobbyists do not always make their role known in creating legislation and advocating for or against policy, the true significance of a piece of legislation is often obscured. To quote an old expression, “Show me your friends and I’ll show you who you are.” Understanding the context of a bill is extremely important to understand its purpose and effect.
New Mexicans deserve better. With a $7.4 billion annual state budget and the lives of our citizens and children on the line, we need to put all information on the table regarding the legislature’s decision-making process. It’s time for New Mexico to follow other forward-thinking states and require full disclosure of all lobbying activity and money spent influencing policy. Fortunately, this session we have several pieces of legislation that can accomplish this and improve the transparency and performance of the legislature.
Senate Bill 314 would require lobbyists and their employers to report on every bill and official action they lobby on, and Senate Bill 311 would require them to disclose the total amount of money spent lobbying policymakers.
If enacted into law, these reforms would, for the first time, enable us all to see exactly which companies and interest groups worked for or against a piece of legislation or policy, and the money spent doing so, and gain a better understanding of who is pulling the levers of power in our state. This knowledge would in turn lead to improved decision making, public participation and accountability.
Diverse states across America, both Democrat and Republican, have enacted these reforms. The governor and the Independent Ethics Commission have joined the call for disclosure of lobbyists reporting all bills they lobby on.
It’s time for the Legislature to give New Mexicans the information we need to make the best decisions for our future.
When the Senate Rules Committee considers SB311 and 314, I hope we will finally put the interests of New Mexicans first and create these powerful new tools of transparency and governmental effectiveness.
Senator Jeff Steinborn, D-Doña Ana County, is starting his second term in the Senate, and is a former state representative. He has authored numerous legislative-transparency measures.