Voters want tougher ethics laws, survey says
New Mexico lawmakers in recent years have been reluctant to pass significant proposals aimed at reducing corruption and increasing transparency in state government. But a poll released on the eve of this year's legislative session shows voters overwhelmingly continue to support stronger laws on ethics, lobbyist regulation and campaign finance.
Common Cause New Mexico, which has pushed several such bills in recent years, hired Research & Polling of Albuquerque to conduct the survey. The results are similar to other research the organization has commissioned in recent years.
"The widespread support for the campaign finance and ethics reform measures cuts across political lines," Brian Sanderoff, president of the polling firm, said in a Jan. 14 letter to Common Cause leaders.
The latest poll also found that the percentage of voters who say New Mexico is headed in "the right direction" has fallen drastically in just one year. In Common Cause New Mexico's 2015 poll, 41 percent of respondents said the state was going in the right direction. This year, only 23 percent agreed. Results showed that 44 percent said the state was on "the wrong track," compared to only 33 percent last year.
"You would not believe the amount of cynicism out there," Heather Ferguson of Common Cause said. "The public thinks the system is out of control and that they no longer have a voice."
Sanderoff's company interviewed a random sample of 452 registered voters in the state between Dec. 28 and Jan. 6, using both landline and cellphone numbers. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.6 percentage points.
According to the poll:
- 90 percent of those surveyed say it is a good idea to require lobbyists to publicly disclose the bills for which they have been hired to advocate or oppose. Last year, the Legislature watered down a lobbyist-reform bill that, in its original form, included this requirement.
- 77 percent of those polled strongly support the state requiring all large political contributions from individuals, corporations, political committees, nonprofits or unions be made public. Another 14 percent say they "somewhat support" that idea. Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, and Rep. Jim Smith, R-Albuquerque, have pre-filed such a bill (Senate Bill 11). In past years, Wirth's bill has passed the Senate by a wide, bipartisan margin but has never made it through the House.
- 66 percent say they strongly support creating an independent ethics commission. Another 19 percent said they somewhat support the idea. Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque, has pre-filed a proposed constitutional amendment, House Joint Memorial 5, that would establish such an agency. Ferguson said this plan would be an "antidote" to much of the public's cynicism.
One surprise in the poll is the response to a question about whether participants believe that limiting campaign contributions to candidates helps to prevent corruption. A majority of those surveyed, 58 percent, agreed with the statement. However, that number is a full 10 percentage points lower than it was in the Common Cause survey last year.
Ferguson speculated that voter frustration and cynicism over political scandals last year led to the lower number. The scandals she mentioned include the conviction of former Secretary of State Dianna Duran on charges related to her breaking campaign finance rules she was charged with enforcing and the resignation of Sen. Phil Griego, D-San Jose, in the face of a Senate ethics probe.
On the subject of lobbying, Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, has pre-filed three bills. HB 135 would require employers of lobbyists to file more frequent reports disclosing all spending to lobby the New Mexico State government; HB 136 would require lobbyists to disclose specific pieces of legislation and administrative issues they are hired to work; and HB 137 would require lobbyists to list each legislator who receives a gift, meal, or other expenditure from them.
Steinborn said these bills all were parts of his original lobbyist reform bill that got cut during the committee process in the past. "I know it's going to be tough to pass these," he said Monday. "But my job is to keep this issue alive."