In the wake of revelations that lobbyists and candidates are at times reporting donations differently — making tracking some money in state politics nearly impossible — the Secretary of State’s Office says it’s working on a new rule to clarify reporting requirements.
In addition, the office would welcome legislative efforts to fix weaknesses in state laws related to campaign finance reporting, acting Secretary of State Mary Quintana wrote in a recent letter to Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen and House Majority Leader Nate Gentry.
“Please know that this office shares your concerns and we are in the process of drafting a rule which will hopefully clarify the many shortcomings in the Lobbyist Regulation Act,” Quintana’s letter states.
The letter comes after KOB-TV decided to cross-check the finance reports of 10 legislative leaders with what lobbyists reported donating to their campaigns.
KOB found the task nearly impossible. In a letter they wrote to Quintana about KOB’s investigation, Papen, D-Las Cruces, and Gentry, R-Albuquerque, explained three problems that led to discrepancies:
- Lobbyists sometimes report donations as coming from themselves instead of their employers. Meanwhile, the checks come from their employers, so candidates record donations as coming from the employers, not their lobbyists.
- Some lobbyists are reporting multiple donations as one contribution, while the candidates are reporting each individually.
- When an organization has more than one lobbyist, sometimes multiple lobbyists are each reporting the same donation, making it appear that there were multiple contributions when there was only one.
The result is that news organizations like KOB and members of the public can’t accurately track money flowing from lobbyists and the organizations they represent to candidates — even if the lobbyists and candidates are reporting donations as the law requires.
That newly discovered problem comes on the heels of the resignation of Quintana’s old boss, former Secretary of State Dianna Duran, who pleaded guilty last month to two felonies related to abusing the state’s campaign finance reporting system.
It’s up to Gov. Susana Martinez to appoint Duran’s replacement. In the meantime, Quintana is in charge of the Secretary of State’s Office.
In response to the KOB investigation, Papen and Gentry asked Quintana to work on a new rule clarifying lobbyist reporting. “We know that you share our desire to promote transparency in campaign finance and would appreciate your assistance in this regard,” they wrote in their letter.
In her response, Quintana wrote that “significant changes” were made to the Lobbyist Regulation Act and other reporting laws in the 2014 and 2015 legislative sessions.
“There are shortcomings in the law which naturally lead to confusion,” Quintana wrote. “… While we continuously carry out our statutory mandate to educate and seek voluntary compliance with the law, it is difficult to do when the law is unclear on such a complex subject matter.”
Quintana wrote that the Secretary of State’s Office hoped to work with Papen, Gentry and others to “bring clarity” to campaign reporting laws.
The Secretary of State’s Office had worked for months on a proposed rule to clarify how candidates should interpret various provisions in another law related to campaign reporting — the state’s Campaign Reporting Act. Efforts to enact that rule were derailed after Duran was charged but before she resigned.
Groups including the progressive advocacy organization ProgressNow New Mexico argued that Duran had no place proposing new rules related to a law she was accused of breaking.