Lobbyists reported spending more than $690,000 during the first four months of the year to influence legislators and other public officials.
Much of the money went to food, drinks and gifts for lawmakers and other public officials.
But nearly $244,450 went to advertising and phone calls aimed at motivating constituents to contact their lawmakers on a variety of issues.
That advocacy spending, by 11 different groups, is considerably higher than the $106,000 reported by two interest groups in 2015, the last 60-day session.
Much of the 2017 advocacy focused on failed efforts to increase background checks on gun purchases, but lobbyists reported trying to rally constituents to contact lawmakers on other issues as well.
Some $292,000 of the spending so far this year already was revealed during the 60-day legislative session, when lobbyists and their employers must report any amounts of $500 or more within 48 hours of the event. Many of those reports involve dinners and receptions to which virtually all lawmakers are invited. Every lawmaker received passes from the ski and golf industries.
But lobbyists also report paying for everything from a cup of coffee with a single lawmaker to dinners at steakhouses for entire committees and their staffs.
New Mexico’s lawmakers are the only in the nation who aren’t paid for their service, though they receive per diem payments to cover meals and lodging in Santa Fe. With no limit on how long lawmakers may serve, they often develop close relationships with lobbyists, some of whom are former lawmakers or public officials.
“A lot of times, people we go out with are friends,” said Steve Kopelman, executive director of the New Mexico Association of Counties. “We advocate on behalf of county government, but a lot of times it may just be a friendly lunch.”
State lawmakers sometimes benefit because of those friendships.
CenturyLink lobbyist Johnny Montoya gave $336 worth of spring training baseball tickets to Rep. Carl Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, after the session ended.
Trujillo, who served as chairman of the House Taxation and Revenue Committee during much of the session, was surprised to learn the tickets showed up on Montoya’s lobbying report. Trujillo said he considered the tickets as a casual exchange between friends when both were in Arizona after the session, not a lobbyist transaction.
“He had some tickets that he had bought for himself and wasn’t going to be there,” Trujillo said. “He gave me seven tickets and I only needed three.”
Roundhouse hallways were packed when House and Senate committees held hearings on bills to expand background checks on gun purchases. Both supporters and opponents turned out to state their case.
Two groups spent plenty to get constituents to interact with their lawmakers on the issue.
Tara Reilly-Mica reported spending more than $44,000 on behalf of the National Rifle Association during the session. The money was used for Internet ads aimed at getting constituents to call lawmakers asking them to vote against bills that would have increased background checks on gun sales in the state.
Pedro Morillas, lobbyist for Everytown for Gun Safety, reported paying ProgressNow New Mexico $12,500 for “grassroots lobbying.” That group canvassed in support of the background check bills during the session, but Morillas reported the payment as being made in early April.
In a separate paper filing on March 31, Everytown reported spending $65,062 on digital ads, phone calling and polling.
The proposals to strengthen gun background checks failed to make the House or Senate floors.
Several other groups also reported spending to encourage constituents to speak out on a range of issues.
AARP lobbyist Eugene Varela reported spending nearly $41,000 on newspaper ads in Albuquerque and Santa Fe encouraging Martinez to sign House Bill 86. The “caregiver leave act” would have allowed employees to use sick leave to care for ailing family members.
Martinez vetoed the measure, saying it was vague and “would have significant unintended consequences that would hamper business efficiency and place undue burdens on businesses.”
Pew Charitable Trusts reported in early May paying NextWave Advocacy more than $20,000 during the session for “grassroots advocacy” to increase dental care for low-income and elderly residents. A spokeswoman for the organization said it failed to file a report within two days of the expense because of an “internal error.”
And Sandra Adondakis, lobbyist for the American Cancer Society, reported spending $8,071 on phone calls and Facebook ads encouraging people to contact lawmakers to pass a cigarette tax hike.
That measure also failed.
Wining and dining
Many lobbyists continue to report expenses under $100 either individually or in the aggregate. That’s despite Republican Gov. Susana Martinez veto of a bill to close the loophole created in 2016 that allowed lobbyists to no longer report spending under $100 per expenditure.
He was among 20 lobbyists that New Mexico In Depth identified who reported more than $23,000 on their May 2015 reports but filed no expense reports this year.
It isn’t clear if all of those lobbyists are using the loophole. And there’s no way to know.
Katherine Freeman, who represents United Way of Santa Fe County, reported spending $354 in her May 2015 report, but nothing this year. A spokeswoman for the organization said Freeman didn’t have any expenses to report.
Longtime lobbyist John Lee Thompson reported spending more than $2,100 two years ago, but nothing this year. He wrote in an email that all his expenses were under $100 and that he’s now retired.
But several top spenders continue to report expenses under $100 in the aggregate, including Scott Scanland, Arthur Hull and New Mexico Municipal League Executive Director Bill Fulginiti.
And many filed reports detailed more than the law requires.
Of the more than 800 detailed expenses reported by lobbyists and companies, 152 totaling $7,125 weren’t required to be reported under current law. That included $4.40 that New Mexico Association of Counties’ Kopelman reported spending at Slate Street in Albuquerque for Democratic Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto.
“We’ve always just felt, we’ve got the information,” Kopelman said. “We may as well present it so there’s no question on the extent we spend money on legislative issues. My own personal view is that anytime any money is spent in any way that could possibly influence legislation, it should be disclosed.”
Not all the food went to lawmakers. Martinez and her staff also were beneficiaries.
Shelby Fletcher, who represents the drug company Pfizer, reported spending $103 on food and beverages for the governor’s staff two days after the session ended. Brian Moore, of the New Mexico Association of Counties, reported spending a total of $174 for food for with the governor’s office on two different dates during the session.
And Mark Duran, who represents a variety of clients, paid Dashing Delivery $364 for dinner delivery to the governor’s office and staff on April 6, the day before the deadline for the governor to sign or veto bills.
Much of Duran’s nearly $7,500 in spending went to meals during the session.
“I know the governor’s office is working hard, the legislators are working hard,” Duran said. “They’ve got to eat.”