Governor to add ethics to legislative agenda

Susan Montoya Bryan
The Associated Press
New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE — A battle is brewing among House Democratic leaders and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez over what ethics and campaign finance reform bills should be added to the agenda for New Mexico’s upcoming legislative session.

Martinez announced late Tuesday that she would add some ethics bills to the agenda, including one that would require legislators to disclose outside sources of income to protect against conflicts of interest.

There have been numerous calls for ethics and campaign finance reforms in the wake of a scandal involving former Secretary of State Dianna Duran, who was prosecuted for misusing political donations to fuel a gambling addiction.

House Minority Leader Brian Egolf sent a letter to Martinez requesting she add a series of reform bills to the agenda.

House Democrats want to create a statewide ethics commission, toughen a pension forfeiture law aimed at corrupt elected officials, and require that donations funneled to winning candidates for inaugural celebrations be reported like any another campaign contributions.

They also are seeking disclosure when it comes to a discretionary fund used by the governor to pay for dinners, receptions and other obligations of the office. Currently, state law excludes the fund from being audited.

“It is absolutely critical that we hear ethics reform legislation this session,” Egolf said in a statement. “The people of New Mexico want and deserve more transparency and safeguards against corruption in our state.”

Egolf said the systems currently in place aren’t working and New Mexico can’t afford to wait another year to fix them.

Martinez’s office fired back, accusing Egolf of playing political games since Democrats had opposed some of the proposed measures in the past.

“These are the same politicians who had the majority for more than 60 years and never bothered to pass any of these measures, and in fact voted against an even stronger corruption bill that the governor strongly advocated for,” said Michael Lonegran, a spokesman for Martinez.

As for the governor’s discretionary fund, spending has been pared back under the Martinez administration when compared with the tenure of former Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat.

Aside from the House Democrats’ proposals, Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, has teamed up with Rep. Jim Smith, R-Albuquerque, to push for an overhaul of New Mexico’s campaign finance reporting system. Their proposal would shine light on the amount of money being funneled toward political campaigns by nonprofits and other independent groups.

New Mexico is among the states working to revamp campaign laws to require greater disclosure following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, which critics blame for a flood of “dark money” into political campaigns.

The bipartisan proposal would define coordination between candidates and outside organizations as well as clarify allowable expenses for candidates.

The governor’s office said this week it has yet to decide whether to add the campaign finance reform measure to the agenda.