Officials unveil lobbyist training guide

Susan Montoya Bryan
The Associated Press
New Mexico Secretary of State Brad Winter poses for a photograph in his office in Santa Fe on Wednesday. Winter said a new guide for lobbyists and training on campaign finance reporting are among the office’s efforts to boost education and accessibility.

SANTA FE — In the wake of a campaign finance scandal involving one of New Mexico’s highest-ranking elected officials, the Secretary of State’s Office is hoping to reduce confusion and increase accountability among lobbyists and candidates as the state embarks on another election year.

The agency is rolling out a guide for lobbyists and offering two webinars in advance of the Legislature’s next session, which begins Jan. 19. The first webinar on Wednesday drew more than two dozen participants.

Campaign finance scandals — including the resignation and conviction of former Secretary of State Dianna Duran — during the last year have highlighted weaknesses in the state’s reporting system. Some lawmakers have proposed closing the gaps by revamping the reporting law and creating a state ethics commission.

Secretary of State Brad Winter, who was appointed to the position three weeks ago, said accountability is a big focus now. He wants to make the reporting process smooth and transparent, Winter said.

“The communication and the education is the vital part,” he said Wednesday, explaining that lobbyists and candidates both will know what’s expected of them when reporting contributions and spending.

Officials say the new guide and the training is intended to clarify the forms, deadlines and other requirements of lobbyist and their employers. The material also outlines rules regarding registration, reporting, contributions and expenditures.

Software changes will also enable candidates to specify on their reports exactly where their donations are coming from. In addition to a line for the lobbyist, they must also include the name of the original donor from whom the lobbyist collected the money.

Winter also announced that the Secretary of State’s Office will create a department focused on education, ethics and compliance that will be staffed by several employees. The goal is to help elected officials with reporting and any questions about expenditures.

“That’s going to cut down on a lot of issues,” Winter said.

There are also plans to conduct more audits of campaign finance reports, he said.

The office is crafting new rules for reporting, but the fate of those proposals will depend on whether Gov. Susana Martinez includes any reform measures on the agenda for the upcoming legislative session.

Martinez said Tuesday her office has made no decision.

The Secretary of State’s Office, which oversees enforcement of New Mexico’s elections laws, is gearing up for a busy year because of the presidential election. The entire Legislature also is up for election.