One of the biggest concerns voiced by lawmakers during the current legislative session is about dwindling revenue projections they have to work with while crafting the budget. “There’s no money this year,” is a common refrain.
But you don’t hear that very much from legislative lobbyists as they shell out for receptions, dinners, gifts and other goodies for legislators during this session.
By the end of last week, lobbyists and their employers had spent about $175,000, according to lobbyist reports filed since the beginning of the session with the Secretary of State’s Office.
As has been the case for years, the biggest reported expenses have been from the state’s ski and golf industries.
George Brooks, president of Ski New Mexico, reported spending $29,500 on Jan. 26 for ski passes for members of the House and Senate. Meanwhile, the New Mexico Golf Tourism Alliance on Feb. 4 spent $28,000 on golf passes for legislators. As usual, neither industry has any specific legislation that it is pushing or opposing. The organizations see the gifts as a good way to spread goodwill and get lawmakers to visit their facilities.
Many of the big, expensive receptions found in the lobbyist reports are annual events for professional associations that give their members a chance to mingle with lawmakers. Such is the case of the New Mexico Mining Association’s annual dinner, held this year on Feb. 1 at the Santa Fe Hilton. The group’s lobbyist, Mike Bowen, reported spending $17,429 for the event.
The reports also include smaller, more intimate events in which businesses invite a select group of lawmakers for a nice dinner. Such was the case of Louisiana Energy Services, which spent $1,863 for a Jan. 27 dinner at La Fonda for several Republican lawmakers and guests.
Unlike some businesses that file reports, LES lists the individual officials who attended the dinner. This year’s guests included Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle of Portales, Sens. Carroll. Leavell of Jal, Gaye Kernan of Hobbs, Ron Griggs of Alamogordo and Bill Burt of Alamogordo, plus House Speaker Don Tripp of Socorro and Reps. James Townsend of Artesia, Candy Spence Ezell of Roswell, Cathrynn Brown of Carlsbad, David Gallegos of Eunice and Paul Bandy of Farmington. Also at the dinner party were Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn, Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Secretary David Martin and Lt. Gov. John Sanchez. Several of these people brought a guest.
Lobbyist John Thompson, a BNSF Railway lobbyist, reported spending $918 for a Jan. 27 dinner at Geronimo for other BNSF lobbyists, Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, and Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup.
There is at least one legislator who doesn’t accept any gifts from lobbyists — be it a golf pass or a lunch. Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces, said Friday that accepting freebies would make him feel uncomfortable. “The per capita income in my district is very low,” he said. “I don’t feel someone should feel they have better access to me because they give me something. It’s not like I won’t meet with anyone. But if they offer to buy me lunch, I’ll say, ‘Let’s just talk.’ It’s just a personal comfort thing. I don’t judge anyone else.”
The state Gift Act limits lobbyists from giving gifts valued at more than $250 to individual lawmakers.
During a session of the Legislature, lobbyists are required to report to the Secretary of State’s Office expenditures larger than $500 within 48 hours of the spending.
Other lobbyist reports filed so far in the session are:
- University of New Mexico, $13,410 for a Jan. 25 legislative appreciation dinner at La Fonda. Besides legislators, staff and other state officials, invited guests included university regents, and several UNM groups.
- Ricardo Rel, a lobbyist for New Mexico State University, reported spending $10,340. Of that, $8,659 was for a Jan. 29 event at the Eldorado Hotel. The other $1,681 was spent on basketball jerseys for the annual Senate/House basketball game.
- John Christopher, a lobbyist for Comcast Cable Corp., reported spending $10,247 on Jan. 25 for a dinner for legislators at Restaurant Martin.
- Presbyterian Health Plan spent $9,415 for a Jan. 20 dinner La Posada de Santa Fe. All 112 legislators and other officials were invited.
- Scott Smart, a lobbyist for Eastern New Mexico University, spent $9,067 for a Jan. 20 reception at the Inn at Loretto.
- Randy Traynor, a lobbyist for the New Mexico Automotive Dealers Association, spent $8,579.14 for a Jan. 26 reception at the Inn at Loretto for legislators and association members.
- Kevin Parker, director of media services for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico, spent $6,341 for a Jan. 29 breakfast for legislators and others at the Santa Fe Hilton. The breakfast cost $5,386. Parker also reported spending $954 for folio binders for the lawmakers and other invited officials.
- The New Mexico Federation of Labor spent $4,943 for a Jan. 19 reception at the Center for Progress and Justice. All elected officials were invited.
- Conservation Voters New Mexico spent $4,896 for a Jan. 27 event at the Rio Chama Steakhouse for legislators.
- The Fort Sill Apache Tribe spent $3,873 on a Feb. 4 reception at the Inn at Loretto for legislators.
- Natasha Ning, a lobbyist for the New Mexico Military Institute, spent $2,398 for a Jan. 28 breakfast at La Fonda for legislators and the institute’s board members and staff.
- Marco Gonzales, a lobbyist for Solar City, spent $2,190 for a Jan. 29 breakfast at Hotel Santa Fe.
- Stephanie Ly, a lobbyist for the American Federation of Teachers, spent $1,930 at Smith’s supermarket for lunch meat and other food items for lawmakers.
- David Roddy, a lobbyist for the New Mexico Primary Care Association, spent $1,908 on Feb. 4 on teddy bears for legislators.
- The New Mexico Press Association spent $1,500 on May 4 on a breakfast at the Rio Chama Steakhouse for legislators and members.
- Susan Loubet, a lobbyist for the New Mexico Women’s Agenda, spent $1,500 for a Feb. 1 reception at the Rio Chama Steakhouse to honor women. Female legislators and other officials, plus several women’s groups, were invited.
- Matejka Santillanes of the Legislative Branch of the Navajo Nation Council reported spending $733 on Jan. 22 at Mucho Gourmet Sandwich for legislators and staff. The Navajo gaming operation paid for the food.
- Vanessa Alarid, a contract lobbyist for several clients, spent $583 on a “birthday party for a friend” on Feb. 4 at the Rio Chama. Alarid, who is married to Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, reported that “some legislators” attended the party. she wrote, “Their amount was less than necessary to report, but total bill exceeded $500.”
- La Vonda Jones, a New Mexico Gas Co. lobbyist, spent $500 for a Jan. 20 reception and dinner at La Fonda for Democratic legislators and guests.