ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — Lobbyists and their clients handed out about $750,000 in campaign contributions to New Mexico lawmakers, Gov. Susana Martinez and others in the months leading up to this year's legislative session, according to the latest disclosure reports.
The contributions were in addition to nearly $90,000 spent by lobbyists since last spring for food, drinks, gifts and entertainment for lawmakers and other state officials.
The disclosures submitted to the secretary of state's office cover contributions and spending from May through Jan. 15 and are the first reports to be filed after the office issued guidelines aimed at increasing transparency within the state's campaign finance reporting system.
The guidelines urge lobbyists to report their expenses in greater detail, including who they received contributions from. Only some reports included that information.
Open government groups that have been pushing for reform of the state's campaign finance reporting laws say the recommendations for lobbyists mark a good first step but more needs to be done.
"In the guidelines, there's a lot of encouraging. The time has come to not encourage, but to change this in statute and make it mandatory," said Viki Harrison, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico.
New Mexico's campaign finance system has come under greater scrutiny in recent months following the prosecution of former Secretary of State Dianna Duran, who misused her own campaign donations to fuel a gambling addiction.
When it comes to lobbyists, many voluntarily disclose the names of clients on whose behalf they provided political contributions. In other instances, the company employing the lobbyist files a separate report disclosing their spending, including campaign contributions.
But if that doesn't happen, state law makes it impossible to track the source of some campaign contributions.
Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, has introduced three bills aimed at shining more light on campaign donations. While Martinez, a Republican, called Tuesday in her State of the State address for improving the reporting system, it's not clear if the lobbying bills will be added to the agenda.
Steinborn called the measures critical.
"The public is in the dark about huge amounts of money being spent to influence policy," he told The Associated Press. "A policy directive from the secretary of state can't require this disclosure."
According to state records, the clients of lobbyists reported more than $488,000 in campaign contributions in 2015 and another quarter of a million dollars in expenditures.
The oil and gas industry and gambling interests including horse-racing tracks and American Indian tribes with casinos were among the top contributors. For instance, Devon Energy reported $158,000 in contributions while Yates Petroleum spent more than $90,000. Common Cause also spent more than $100,000 on its lobbying efforts last year.
Aside from meals for members of the influential Legislative Finance Committee, the latest reports show lobbyists helped pay for tickets to an event at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in September as well as tickets to college basketball games and shows at tribal casinos in the Albuquerque area.
Campaign finance reports online: https://www.cfis.state.nm.us/media/