Rep. Jeff Steinborn
Rep. Jeff Steinborn’s, D-Doña Ana, HB 155 will be heard 1:30 p.m. Monday by the House Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee in Room 315 at the Roundhouse. The bill will improve the process by which lobbyists and their employers disclose their spending, the issues on which they are lobbying, and their campaign contributions.
In 2013, there were approximately six lobbyists for every one of New Mexico’s 112 legislators. Lobbyists and their employers currently register and report through the Secretary of State’s (SOS) Office but access to meaningful information is difficult, postings delayed and records removed after only a few years.
HB 155 will update the Lobbyist Regulation Act, by requiring full disclosure of lobbying spending of companies and interest groups, upgrading the SOS’s lobbyist website, and publishing reports more quickly and in a more searchable fashion. It will also require lobbyists to disclose the issues on which they were employed to lobby.
“To understand how laws are created and passed, it’s important to know who is influencing legislators, and how much money is being spent to affect the process” Steinborn said. “This legislation will require reporting of all the money spent to lobby the New Mexico Legislature, and put that information online where the citizens have easy access to it with a few simple clicks.”
Steinborn’s bill will ensure that lobbyist information on the site is searchable, accessible and downloadable. Registrations that lobbyists are currently required to file will be posted no more than five days after filing, and records will be retained for ten years on line, instead of the current two.
To help finance the upgrade, lobbyist registrations will be increased from $25 to $50 per client.
The bill will also require lobbyists’ employers to disclose the specific issue they hire a lobbyist to work on and lobbyists to disclose the bills they are lobbying—something that is not clearly required under current law, although some lobbyists voluntarily disclose this information.
“Everyone had a right to know,” Steinborn said.
Viki Harrison, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, says that’s something the public clearly wants. A recent statewide poll taken for her organization by Research and Polling in early January revealed 89 percent of those surveyed felt it was a good idea to require lobbyists to disclose the bills that they are working on.
“This is basic information that the public has a right to know,” she said.
Harrison said one statistic about lobbyists from the poll jumped right out. 64 percent of voters surveyed believed that New Mexico’s elected officials are more responsive to lobbyists than to voters. Only 19 percent said that they believed elected officials are more responsive to voters.
That’s s serious warning sign that our democracy is ailing,” she said, “and we need to intervene to make it more transparent.”