Letter To The Editor: Money In politics?

By VERNON N. KERR
Former Representative

I was shocked when I saw in the newspapers that some legislative races of state representative cost $100,000 in our state, the corker was $250,000 for a senate race. This was somewhat earlier in the campaigns, maybe a couple of years ago.

I served 16 years as the state representative for Los Alamos County and one term as a county councilor, plus a year as the governor’s cabinet secretary for finance and administration. I also spent 10 years as the chief bill analyst for the House and Senate at various times. Through all of this I never would have expected such an increase in the cost of campaigning for a legislative office I spent at most less than $6,000 on after my district was expanded to include a part of Sandoval County.

What has made a legislative seat so valuable? You will have to ask the Democrats because Republicans have only held the majority in the House for two years out of the last 50 years. The district I served, District 43, is much larger now than then and includes a big portion of rural areas including La Cienega, Gallina, Cuba, Lindrith and more. This will certainly account for increased costs in District 43.

Campaigning requires printing costs, radio, newspaper ads, telephone banks and paid workers. Some Los Alamos races had Albuquerque radio and TV ads, which at the time were excessive for coverage of most of New Mexico for one small district. I have not followed the costs of printing and media costs, but have been watching postage costs. I know that direct mail costs have gone up by a factor of 10 or more. Shoe leather also brings up the cost. One friend of mine who ran in a completely rural district always used to say that shoe leather was not his forte, he wore out a pickup every race. Gasoline costs are included in campaigning and more so for District 43 today. I had Cochiti, Ponderosa and Jemez Springs. We did not have Facebook, YouTube, Instagram or Twitter to help reach outlier areas. Costs of attending national campaign seminars and local events would also figure in.

Raising money for campaigns is a large part of running for office. There are ways of gathering the necessary contributions, such as from individuals and from organizations like professional groups and industry representatives. You have to ask. If you don’t you will not get it. One of Common Cause’s concerns is the influence of money on elected public officers.

Indeed there should be a concern. But one should do a little research on their candidates before going to the ballot box. There has to be an element of trust. The law won’t do it. If one is serious about participating in our democratic process there needs to be a little research. Attend public forums, read the newspaper, talk with your friends, and greet the candidate at your door.

Send the candidate a contribution. Twenty dollars will only buy a couple of rounds of beer at the local American Legion Post, but a lot of twenties may help your candidate get elected. Give more if you can. This is the best kind of money a campaign can get. One Democrat lady always gave me one dollar that I prized very much. I think she voted for me.

Was I ever offered money to vote a certain way? Yes, but I had to be true to myself and said No. If I already agreed with someone, I would support the proposition any way without the contribution. One lobbyist bought me a cup of coffee for which he got my ear. By the way lobbyists are not nasty people. They can be friends and a reliable source of needed information.

In my earlier days in the legislature (early 70’s), the vote was taken by the clerk on a show of hands and before the vote was closed the Democratic whip would enter the chamber from the outside corridor, “Mister Speaker. Mister Speaker, I would like to cast my vote before the vote is closed”. And so he did, then several other members would stand up, and state, ”Mister Speaker I would like to change my vote”. We all knew that the money had come in. All this drama changed when the Cowboy Coalition took charge and had installed the tote board, which is now in place in the House of Representatives. The smaller Senate never had a Cowboy Coalition nor a Republican majority so they remain without a tote board.

To get back to the beginning, why does the value of a legislative seat merit a cost of $200,000 to $250,000? Ask the Democrats … they have been in control for all but two years of the last 50.

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