Category : General

NMEW Announces New Report on Oil And Gas Industry Political Contributions

The year 2020 will forever be synonymous with misery. Besides killing nearly 3,200 people in New Mexico, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the economy to shut down, causing tens of thousands to lose their jobs in this state in 2020. But according to a new report by New Mexico Ethics Watch, money from oil and gas interests to New Mexico politicians and political organizations continued to flow, with almost $3.3 million from the industry going to political causes during this past election cycle.

Using campaign finance data from the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office and the National Institute on Money in Politics’, New Mexico Ethics Watch documented $3,296,839 in direct contributions from the industry to candidates, committees, and PACs in the state during the primary and general elections last year. This amount is eye-popping in a small, low-income state like New Mexico, where the average annual income, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is just over $26,000. However, the totals would increase dramatically if lobbyist compensation were included. New Mexico does not require this disclosure, unlike many other states.

“Though the pandemic left many New Mexicans struggling to make ends meet, oil-friendly politicians didn’t have to worry about their campaign coffers going dry,” said Kathleen Sabo, executive director of New Mexico Ethics Watch. “Hopefully this report will encourage journalists, academic researchers and the general public to better scrutinize the political activities of this major industry. And we hope policy makers will take action to improve transparency and accountability in the area of campaign finance.”

Sabo co-authored the report with New Mexico Ethics Watch’s Lauren Hutchison, Tony Ortiz, Steve Terrell and Collin Troy.

Read the full report

Press Release: Cannabis Industry Prepares for Legalization Push with Campaign Contributions


November 12, 2020

Contact: Kathleen Sabo, Executive Director, 505-274-2442 or

Cannabis Industry Prepares for Legalization Push with Campaign Contributions

With the state Senate about to become more liberal after this week’s election, marijuana legalization in New Mexico got closer to becoming a reality. And with this issue likely to be a major topic of discussion in next year’s Legislature, the cannabis industry has reported spending nearly $90,000 in general election campaign contributions to help cultivate influence with new — and old — lawmakers.

And with efforts to create tougher regulations for storefront or installment loans — popularly called “payday loans” — also likely to be debated in the Legislature next year, that industry also contributed to New Mexico politicians. Companies associated with such lending handed out more than $40,000 in campaign contributions in New Mexico during this year’s general election season.

There has been no indication of much in the way of proposed gun legislation in the works for next year’s Legislature. But the pro-gun control organization Everytown for Gun Safety — backed by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, a former mayor of New York City — continues to contribute to state Democrats. The group has given $215,000 to candidates and political action committees (PACs) during the general election period. By contrast, the pro-gun-rights National Rifle Association has contributed $2,500 to candidates here, all of that amount going to Republicans.

New Mexico Ethics Watch recently analyzed data pertaining to campaign  contributions linked to cannabis, storefront lending, firearms and other hot-button issues likely to be debated in next year’s Legislature.

“Big businesses as well as large advocacy groups know that one of the best ways to establish friendly relationships with lawmakers is to donate to their campaigns,” said Kathleen Sabo, executive director of New Mexico Ethics Watch. “It’s impossible to say that big contributions `buy access’ to officials. But they certainly don’t hurt.”

Here are the chief findings of New Mexico Ethics Watch, based on the three rounds of general election campaign finance reports filed with the Office of the Secretary of State. The reports detail campaign contributions for a period of just over four months between June 30 and October 27, 2020:


New Mexico’s cannabis industry began a little more than a decade ago when the state launched a medical marijuana program for patients with certain conditions. According to the most recent statistics from the state, the program has more than 98,000 patients.

In 2019, the state House of Representatives narrowly voted in favor of  legalizing marijuana for all New Mexico adults. However, the bill failed to pass the more conservative state Senate. But because of this year’s election, the Senate will be younger and more liberal, which could tip the balance in favor of  the cannabis legalization effort.

According to campaign finance reports filed with the Secretary of State, the state’s largest cannabis company, the Arizona-based Ultra Health contributed more than $50,000 to New Mexico campaigns during the general election period. Ultra Health’s CEO and president, Duke Rodriguez, a former Human Services secretary during Gov. Gary Johnson’s administration, personally contributed another $3,000.

A second major cannabis producer, the Albuquerque-based Purlife — owned by Republican Darren White, another Johnson Cabinet secretary and a former Bernalillo County Sheriff — contributed $25,000 during this period. All of Purlife’s contributions went to the New Mexico Senate Democrats’ political action committee. Raking in a total of $53,000 from cannabis interests during the general election, the Senate Democrats’ PAC received more contributions from this industry than any other PAC.

The major candidate recipients of cannabis money during the general election have been Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, and Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell. Both legislators reported a

$5,000 contribution from Ultra Health. Martinez was the main sponsor of the legalization bill that passed the House last year and has sponsored other marijuana legislation. Pirtle was one of three Republican senators who sponsored a legalization bill in 2019.

In addition to veteran lawmakers, several political newcomers received contributions from cannabis producers. These include Senator-elect Brenda McKenna, a Corrales Democrat who received $3,000; and Pamela Cordova, an unsuccessful Democratic Senate candidate from Belen, ($2,000). Among those receiving $1,000 contributions from the cannabis sector were Senator-elect Katy Duhigg, D, Albuquerque; Rep.-elect Brittney Barerras, an independent from Albuquerque; and Paul Baca, D-Belen who lost his Senate race.

Democrats have received more than 77 percent of the cannabis industry contributions.


Installment Loans

In 2017, after years of considering measures to cap exorbitant interest rates on the storefront lending industry, the Legislature passed a bill setting that cap at 175 percent — several times the interest rate of regular banks and credit unions, but far less than the old “payday” loan rates of previous days.

But last month the Santa Fe-based think tank, Think New Mexico announced that it would be pushing for legislation that would set  a maximum rate of 36 percent. In news interviews, Think New Mexico director Fred Nathan has pointed out that New Mexico’s current rate cap is the third-highest in the nation.

But the industry, as it’s done in the past, is sure to fight any attempt to lower that cap.

In this election cycle, the major installment loan contributors have been the Kansas-based  QC Holdings Inc ($12,750.00); Security Finance Corporation, a South Carolina company ($9,500.00); Axcess Financial Services, an Ohio corporation ( $6,250.00); the Georgia-based Community Loans of America ($5,250.00 ) and the Consumer Installment Loan Association of New Mexico, Inc. ($3,500.00).

Nearly 83 percent of the industry’s contributions came from out of state.

The candidates who received the most installment loan contributions were House Appropriations and Finance Chairman Patricia Lundstrom — who has long been considered a friend to the industry — as well as Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo. Each received $2,000 in contributions from installment loan companies.

Other top recipients include Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho ($1,500); Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque ($1,500); Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert, R-Corrales ($1,250); John Morton, an unsuccessful GOP Senate candidate from Albuquerque ($1,250); Sen.-elect Crystal Diamond , R-Elephant Butte ($1,000); Rep. Dayan Hochmam-Vigil, D-Albuquerque ($1,000); Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque ($1,000); and Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington ($1,000).

The storefront loan industry money was almost evenly split between candidates representing both major political parties, with Republicans receiving just over 51 percent.


As New Mexico Ethics Watch and others have previously reported, in terms of campaign contributions, gun-control advocates have vastly outspent gun-control opponents in New Mexico in recent years.

Although there has not been much talk of significant firearms legislation in the coming legislative session, Everytown for Gun Safety made contributions — all to Democrats — as if major battles were coming.

The group gave $25,000 each to the Brian Egolf Speaker’s Fund and the New Mexico Senate Democrats’ PAC as well as $5,000 checks to 15 individual legislative candidates. Twelve  of those candidates won their elections. Two other Democrats, Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino and Rep. Debbie Armstrong, both of Albuquerque, received $2,500 contributions from Everytown.

Another gun-control advocacy group, Giffords PAC, has contributed $2,500, the same amount as the NRA contributed.

Other findings by New Mexico Ethics Watch include:

* It isn’t clear whether there will be any major tobacco legislation next year. So far in this election cycle, the tobacco industry has contributed slightly more than $69,000 to New Mexico politicians. Almost all of that comes from two major national tobacco companies,  RAI Services Company ($36,500) and Altria Client Services LLC ($24,150). The major recipients of tobacco cash are Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, who lost his re-election bid last week ($5,000) and House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe ($4,500). Republicans received about two thirds of tobacco contributions to candidates, though Democratic leadership PACS took in $6,000 in tobacco contributions, compared with $3,500 for GOP leadership PACs.  Thus far there have been no contributions from anti-smoking groups.

* So far there has not been much talk of any significant film bills in next year’s Legislature. So it’s hardly surprising that contributions from the industry have been relatively anemic — only slightly more than $38,000 during the general election period. The largest contributor in this area was film worker’s union IATSE Local 480, which has made about $14,000 in contributions since June — nearly $9,000 going to its PAC, Visions New Mexico, which in turn contributed to various Democratic candidates and committees.

New Mexico Ethics Watch analyzed contributions from lobbyists involved in issues including cannabis, firearms, tobacco and film in a January 2020 report on lobbying , which can be found at

We will continue to analyze general election campaign finance reports as they become available. The final campaign finance reports will be available in early January, 2021.

Download a PDF of the press release.

Press Release: Oil And Gas Contributions (Nov. 2, 2020)


November 2, 2020

Contact: Kathleen Sabo, Executive Director, 505-274-2442 or

Oil And Gas Industry Contributions Keep Pouring Into New Mexico Political War Chests

Oil and gas related interests have made nearly $1.5 million in contributions to New Mexico political campaigns so far during the 2020 general election cycle, with about half of the money coming from out of state.

This is according to the most recent analysis by New Mexico Ethics Watch of general election campaign finance reports filed with the Office of the Secretary of State. The third and most recent reporting period ran from October 6 through October 27, 2020.

During this most recent time frame, the oil and gas industry spent more than $321,000 on political activities in New Mexico. Most of those contributions came from New Mexico sources, though more than 38 percent of that amount came from out-of-state.

This ocean of money is flowing into New Mexico at a time when the per capita annual income of the average New Mexican, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is just over $26,000.

“Once again, oil and gas is playing a big role in financing legislative campaigns in this election,” said Kathleen Sabo, executive director of New Mexico Ethics Watch. “It will be interesting to see how much influence these contributions might have in next year’s Legislature. ”

New Mexico Ethics Watch’s latest findings for the third general election reporting period include:

* As was the case in previous reporting periods, Republicans by far benefited most from oil and gas contributions, with nearly 68 percent going to GOP candidates and committees. However, some of the largest recipients of these contributions went to Democratic Party leaders in the Legislature.

* As usual, the latest reports show that the Yates family — which has been involved in the petroleum industry in New Mexico for decades — is a major force in campaign contributions in this state. Individual family members and their companies have contributed nearly $287,000 during the entire election cycle. For the entire general election cycle, the top four individual oil and gas contributors are members of the Yates family.

In the most recent reporting period, various individuals from the family contributed more than $15,000 to candidates here. Their companies also are huge contributors. These include Strata Production Company, ($25,000 since Oct. 6); Petroleum Yates Inc ($20,000); and The Jalapeño Corporation ($16,000). The John A. Yates Sr. Trust contributed $50,000 during the most recent reporting period.

* The Democrat receiving the most oil and gas contributions in this general election cycle is House Speaker Brian Egolf of Santa Fe. Although he has the support of many environmental groups, Egolf’s personal campaign reported $4,500 from the industry in his most recent report for a cumulative total of $20,000 for the general election cycle. His Republican opponent, Raye Byford has received only $1,000 from the industry, a contribution from Brewer Oil. The speaker’s political action committee (PAC), the Brian Egolf Speaker Fund — which is used to fund Democratic House candidates —  took in $30,000 in oil money during the latest reporting period, for a cumulative total of $56,000.

* The candidate who received the most oil and gas contributions since Oct. 6 is incumbent state Sen. George Muñoz, a Gallup Democrat. He received $8,500, from the industry according to his most recent report. During the 2020 primary, Muñoz was one of five incumbent Democratic state senators who received major support from the industry. He is the only one of those five who won their primary. He faces Republican Angela Olive in Tuesday’s election. Muñoz is a long-time recipient of the industry’s money, having led all senators in oil and gas contributions in 2016. He received more than $60,000 from the industry that election cycle.

* Other top candidate recipients of oil and gas contributions in the most recent round of campaign finance reporting are incumbent Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, ($6,000); Crystal Diamond, a Republican from Elephant Butte running for a state Senate seat, ($6,000); Republican Dinah Vargas of Albuquerque, who is challenging incumbent Rep. Andres Romero ($5,000); Justin Salazar Torres of Española, who is running for a open House seat ($5,000); and Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, who chairs the House Appropriations and Finance Committee ($5,000).

* The top contributors among oil and gas businesses during the general election have been Chevron ($393,100); Strata Production Company ($73,000); the John A. Yates, Sr. Trust ($65,000); Marathon Oil Company ($64,750); and Occidental Petroleum ($64,750).

The reports filed last week are the last ones required before Tuesday’s election. “Last minute” contributions won’t be known until the final reports, which are due by January 7, 2021. New Mexico Ethics Watch will analyze those reports as they become available, crunching the numbers on oil and gas and other industry contributions

New Mexico Ethics Watch and Common Cause New Mexico collaborated on a comprehensive report on oil and gas industry involvement in financing political campaigns, from 2017 through 2019, earlier this year.  That report can be found at

Download a PDF of the press release.

Elijah Nix’s First Prize Winning Essay (2020)

Means To An End

In 1945, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, bringing a swift end to WWII. This action, however, came at a cost: many thousands of Japanese citizens died from the explosion, and many more died from radiation poisoning. Today, we are still left with the questions, “Was that the right move? Were the means justified by the end?”. Regardless of any answer, there is no way to judge without a standard by which to make that judgement. If we are to determine means that truly justify the end, we must gather all information on the subject, define who or what defines correct ethics, and conclude what a true end looks like.

Good-hearted people working without information will usually yield results that contradict their efforts. Using the current pandemic as an example, we see how the lack of knowledge is impacting decision-making. Many seemingly moral people find it acceptable to engage in non-essential interactions, due to a common rationale: “I’m young and healthy so I’m not at risk of getting sick.” Perhaps they are correct in that regard, but more information might bring a change in perspective. If they knew that it is possible to spread Covid-19 to others, even though they themselves are not experiencing symptoms, and that the increased spread of the virus is burdening hospitals and impacting care for all patients— not just Covid-19 patients— they might choose to adopt a stricter quarantine strategy. This, of course, is a small-scale example. However, when considering a larger population, exponentially more information is needed to make an informed decision. When seemingly moral governors are deciding to open counties and cities in this current time, information regarding countless fronts is required. What economic problems are we facing? How will this impact healthcare? How is the environment impacted? What is public opinion? All of these queries are extensive, but are necessary questions to answer, and each query requires information to arrive at a satisfactory answer. If one side lacks moral representation due to a shortage of data, the conclusion is flawed and should be amended. To come to a perfect conclusion, one would need every available piece of information. This rarely happens. Yet even when it does, who is to say which data matter more than others?

To point the information in an ethical direction, an objective source of what is ethically correct is the next step to justifying the means. Where do correct ethics come from? Some might say that the largest group has the correct ethics. However, if this were true for every situation, the majority of Americans who supported Manifest Destiny in the 1800’s were not in the wrong for expanding on Native American territory. Of course, the modern person might find this unacceptable. Some say that nature governs ethics, but if this is true then every natural inclination which humans experience must also be permissible. This would include bursts of anger against others and affairs that could potentially break relationships. Does a higher power govern ethics? The question then becomes, “Which higher power?”. With the millions of different gods humans believe in, which one or ones would be in the right, and how could you prove so? Clearly, objective justice is nearly impossible to find, and exponentially more impossible for all to agree upon. However, if we did have an ethics compass to work with, where would the final destination be?

Correct means are only beneficial if the end is also correct. Using Covid-19 as an example once again, we find many different ways to define what the end of the pandemic would be. Some might say that the end comes when businesses are reopened or when travel is once again permitted. Others might say that the end comes when Covid-19 is eradicated or when an effective vaccine is found. Still others might say the end comes when the economy has fully recovered from the lack of commerce. Which of these ends is the best? Even when the answer is agreed upon, unprecedented circumstances may arise causing the predicted end to be compromised or unresolved. Of the three aspects of moral decision-making addressed in this paper, this one seems to warrant the most difficulty. Even with all knowledge of the present backed by a correct morality, reaching a good ending is not guaranteed. It is a predicament of lacking the ability to look into the future.

With this all laid out, we see that the question posed is truly quite difficult to answer. Not every piece of information is available, the true ethics is never a consensus, and the true ending always blurred. What, then, is to be done? It is the nature of society to disagree and make mistakes. This is how humanity has always functioned. We are by no means perfect. However, we are also capable of collectively making good decisions from time to time. When means are being produced for an end, it is up to each person to ensure that their perspective is heard. History would have it no other way.


Following the final appointments by legislative leaders and the governor, the four legislatively-appointed commissioners are looking to fill the final two commission spots.  (Information about how to apply electronically or by mail can be found here.)

The five commissioners to date:

Retired Judge William F. Lang, (D), Commission Chair, appointed by the governor

Former NM Governor Garrey Carruthers, (R), appointed by NM  State Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle

Judy Villanueva, (R), appointed by NM State House Minority Leader James Townsend

Stuart Bluestone, (D), appointed by NM State House Speaker Brian Egolf

Frances Williams, (D), appointed by NM State Senate President Mary Kay Papen

Three democrats and two republicans have been appointed. By law, no more than three members of the commission may be members of the same political party.

Here is how the four legislatively-appointed commissioners described the necessary qualifications for the sought-after commissioners in their recent op-ed:

“To qualify for appointment to the commission, a person must be a qualified voter in New Mexico; not have changed party registration in the last five years; and not have been, within the past two years: a public official or employee of the state executive or legislative branch or have been appointed to a state executive or legislative branch public agency; a candidate for a state executive or legislative office; a lobbyist as defined in state law; a government contractor or have submitted a competitive sealed bid with a state executive or legislative branch public agency; or an officer in a state or national political party.”

If you meet the qualifications and have interest, please apply!



What Does Being Ethical Mean To Me? 

Across the world, millions of people suffer injustices caused by unethical practices every day. They are treated poorly, tricked into unfair contracts, robbed of their humanity, blackmailed into submission, and hurt in countless other ways as those in power institute practices that take advantage of the weak and vulnerable. Such practices degrade society and the human race as a whole. In order to counter that degradation, it is necessary to fully understand what it is to “be ethical.”

First and foremost, ethicality involves treating others with respect. This includes acknowledging their humanity and treating them as equals. To do this, we must constantly be mindful how our behavior will impact those around us, even during activities as everyday as walking down the street or driving to work. It can be all too easy to allow our emotions, such as road rage, to take control, but in order to be truly ethical we need to fully accept that other people’s lives and opinions matter. We must let go of the erroneous belief that we are any more important than the rest of mankind. Not only does this apply to those immediately at hand, but also to those who, though removed from sight, will be just as affected by one’s actions. Privileged members of a society in particular must consider how their policies will affect the poor, homeless, and otherwise disadvantaged members of the population.

If we truly desire to be ethical, then we cannot stand by and do nothing once aware of unethical practices. We must rise up and speak out against them. British statesman Edmund Burke once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing,” and this is especially true when it comes to ethicality. People willing to do whatever it takes to obtain power, earn a profit, or otherwise further their own selfish interests will always be present in society. It is the same with people who mean well, yet whose efforts unintentionally cause harm. If no one steps in to stop unethical practices enacted by either source, those practices will continue to be used until they become widely accepted. This is why ethical people cannot afford to stand by and watch. If they were to do so, they would allow the very ethicality they claim to represent to dwindle into insignificance.

Interwoven with being morally upstanding is integrity, the quality of sticking to one’s moral code in every circumstance. Being ethical means nothing if one does not choose to adhere to and advocate it no matter how inconvenient, socially unacceptable, or incredibly difficult it may be to do so, including when no one is watching. The instant one sets aside their ethicality for even a moment, that ethicality loses much of its strength. The temptation to give in, to follow in one’s own footsteps down the slippery slope of questionable choices, grows each time this is done and, before long, all ethicality is lost. This is what happened to Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist famous for his use of free dinners, job offers, football game tickets, and other extravagant gifts to corrupt and win the votes of congress members. He may have been moral at first, using only legal and ethical means to influence legislation, but a lack of integrity led to the loss of his ethicality.

Just as integrity is essential to being ethical, so is truthfulness. In order to achieve-and retain-our ethicality, we need to be completely honest with ourselves about our motives, constantly mindful of our actions, and always brave enough to face our fallacies. This is where Abramoff’s most glaring failure laid. Not only did he use unethical means of persuasion, but he convinced himself that such methods were completely moral. Self-deception led to the belief that he was the epitome of morality among lobbyists. Had he confronted the truth, he would have been able to adjust his path and avoid further use of unethical practices, not to mention prison time, loss of face, and other grave consequences.

To be ethical is to be considerate of others, morally upstanding, and completely nondeceptive. By fully understanding each aspect of ethicality, we can cut through the overshadowing haze of rationalization and work together to better ourselves, each other, and society.

Lesa Rae Waterer, Class of 2019, Volcano Vista High School, Albuquerque, NM


NMEW’s Inaugural Ethics Essay Contest Winners Announced!

On July 15th, NMEW held what will become an annual event, Ethics in New Mexico: Where We’ve Been, Where We Are, Where We’re Going, featuring panelists Stuart Bluestone, newly-appointed NM Ethics Commission member and former Chief Deputy NM Attorney General, former NM State Senator and award-winning author Dede Feldman, and former Chief Justice of the NM Supreme Court and NMEW Board Chair, Richard Bosson. (You can read what the ABQ Journal reported about the event and discussion here.)

Following the panel discussion and audience Q&A, NMEW was pleased to announce the winners of its inaugural student essay contest, which asked students to address, “What does being ethical mean to me?”

The following winners were announced:

  • First Place: Lesa Rae Waterer, Class of 2019, Volcano Vista High School, Albuquerque
  • Second Place: Taylor Rogers, Cloudcroft High School, Cloudcroft
  • Third Place: Tina Memarian, La Cueva High School, Albuquerque
  • Honorable Mention: Brooke Blankenship, Volcano Vista High School, Albuquerque
  • Honorable Mention: Max Cassady, St. Pius X High School, Albuquerque

Congratulations to the winners and success in your future endeavors!

(You can read Lesa’s winning essay here on our website.)