Category : General

Ethics Commission Funding: How Much is Enough?

When almost three-quarters of those voting on the constitutional amendment creating an independent ethics commission signaled their approval for the commission this fall, we bet they wanted the commission to be adequately funded!

It was reported today in the Albuquerque Journal that the new governor’s budget plan includes $500k to fund the independent ethics commission.

New Mexico’s Judicial Standards Commission (JSC), with a staff of 7, that is oft-recognized as a premier organization throughout the nation, has a current budget in the $800,000 range.  The JSC polices a much smaller pool of people than the ethics commission will potentially have within its jurisdiction.

While it’s true that the commission likely won’t come into being until mid-2019, thus requiring less than a full year’s funding for start-up costs, the funds that are appropriated will most likely take the form of “recurring funds” – those that are appropriated from year to year to provide sufficient funding for ongoing operations.

During the interim, it was reported that there was a one million dollar placeholder for the commission’s yearly operations.  This might be a sufficient amount of funds to enable the commission to operate effectively and with teeth.  $500k does not seem to be sufficient to fund a full year’s operation, although it would potentially adequately cover a half year’s operation.

We’ll learn more when House Bill 2 becomes public – that bill will show the amount budgeted by the legislature for the commission.  We’ll learn more still as HB 2 and enabling legislation pass through the chambers’ respective finance committees.

That number, though, and the thought behind it, are something for all of us to keep our eyes on!

If you have any comments, please visit out Facebook post.

We’re Here For You!

The legislative session is a week away!

To date, no ethics commission enabling legislation has been pre-filed.  (You can check the legislative website here to see what has been filed. Right from the home page you can enter keywords, bill numbers or see the complete list of 2019 legislation.)

At the top of our NMEW website, you’ll note a holding space for “ETHICS BILLS AS THEY ARE FILED”.  For each filed bill, you’ll be able to click on a link that will take you to information regarding bill location and, if in a committee, committee members’ names and contact info, as well as an analysis, a comparison with other filed enabling legislation bills, and common practices among the states.

In this spot, “Ethics Watch is Watching” – reached by scrolling down on the home page or clicking the ever-present “Ethics Watch is Watching” bar – you’ll find regular postings on all things ethics-related, both during the session and beyond.

We’ll continue to invite you back, especially as things heat up with legislation.  For now, let us know what you think about our website redesign and preparedness on our Facebook page post.  Many thanks!

Activities of An Ethics Commission

The City of Oakland Public Ethics Commission published a “Strategic Plan and Performance Measurements” document in 2017.

Here’s what it provides as mission and activities:

“MISSION

The Public Ethics Commission (PEC) ensures compliance with the City of Oakland’s government ethics, campaign finance, transparency, and lobbyist registration laws that aim to promote fairness, openness, honesty, and integrity in city government.

ACTIVITIES

Lead/Collaborate – Lead by example and facilitate City policy, management, and technological changes to further the PEC’s mission.

Educate/Engage – Provide education, advice, technical assistance, and formal legal opinions to promote awareness and understanding of the city’s campaign finance, ethics, and transparency laws.

Disclose/Illuminate – Facilitate accurate, effective, and accessible disclosure of government integrity data, such as campaign finance reporting, conflicts of interest/gifts reports, and lobbyist activities, all of which help the public and PEC staff monitor filings, view information,
and detect inconsistencies or noncompliance.

Detect/Deter – Conduct investigations and audits to monitor compliance with the laws within the PEC’s jurisdiction.

Prosecute – Obtain compliance and impose fines or penalties for violations of the laws within the PEC’s jurisdiction through administrative or civil remedies.”

Sound good? Anything you would add or take away for our new independent ethics commission?

Please leave your comments on our Facebook page post at https://www.facebook.com/NMEthicsWatch/

Soon, soon… (and we’re prepared!)

With pre-filing of legislation underway since mid-December, it’s just a matter of time before ethics commission enabling legislation is introduced by a member of the legislature.  NMEW participated in the Ethics Commission Working Group, with fellow advocacy groups, business leaders, journalists, private citizens, government officials, and legislators.  Together, we crafted a draft bill, 75 or 80% of which is agreed-upon material.  For the remaining percentage, we set out choices, involving jurisdiction, the powers of the commission and executive director, etc.  Now, it is up to individual legislators to make choices and introduce bills in alignment with their values and beliefs.

As bills are introduced, we’ll be letting you know – and updating – their location (w/ committee member names and numbers), and analyzing and comparing them to each other and to nationwide best practices.  You’ll be able to access that information from the top of our website.

There will be a lot to be absorbed and understood, so feel free to reach out to NMEW if we can be of assistance.  We’ll be doing our best to serve you!

The Progress of HB 291, Amending the Financial Disclosure Act

New Mexico Ethics Watch Releases Statement on the Progress of HB 291, Amending the Financial Disclosure Act

 

New Mexico Ethics Watch applauds the House State Government, Indian and Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s passing HB 291 out of committee and on to the House floor. HB 291 makes small but important changes to the Financial Disclosure Act. We also applaud the Secretary of State for her support of this legislation. We urge the House to schedule a vote on HB 291 quickly so the Senate can get to work, see the bill through to final passage, and send it on to the Governor’s desk.

 

As NMEW noted when the bill was introduced, HB 291 is a step in the right direction towards reform of the Financial Disclosure Act. The bill includes some of the recommendations for changes to the Act contained in a recent report by New Mexico Ethics Watch. In order to give the people of New Mexico the transparency they deserve and require, however, there are many significant changes still to the Act that remain necessary.

 

“It was encouraging to see HB 291 pass out of committee with little debate and with bipartisan support,” Douglas Carver, Executive Director of NMEW said. “NMEW hopes that the full House will soon send this legislation to the Senate, and that the Senate will speed HB 291 on its way.”

 

“We had hoped to see more aggressive amendments to the Financial Disclosure Act introduced this session,” Carver added. “If any House member wished to be a true champion of transparency, they could amend HB 291 on the House floor with the recommendations NMEW made in its report on the Act.” That report, Learning to Walk: New Mexico’s Anemic Financial Disclosure Regimen, is available on NMEW’s website, nmethicswatch.org.

 

“This bill is a very small first step,” Carver concluded. “We hope the Legislature will further amend the Act and provide the people of New Mexico greater transparency.”

 

The Financial Disclosure Act should be amended to:

 

  • Remove the requirement that sources of income be reported under “broad general categories” and real estate holdings by “general description”, and instead require specificity in reporting for these categories.
  • Expand collateral filing requirements to include domestic partners and other family or household members.
  • Require reporting of income under bands of income so that it is clear how significant a holding a particular asset or financial interest is.
  • Tighten the requirements surrounding reporting of the filer’s residences, requiring a spouse or domestic partner to report their residence address; requiring the filer of the form to indicate whether their residence is owned or rented, and if rented, from whom; and requiring owned residences to be declared along with other real property holdings.
  • Remove the present limitations on reporting membership on boards, business interests, professional licenses, and similar associations to New Mexico. Such licenses, board memberships, and business interests should be reported wherever they occur.

 

New Mexico Ethics Watch is a non-partisan organization founded in 2016 dedicated to promoting ethics and accountability in government and public life. NMEW advances its mission through research, litigation, policy advocacy, and media outreach.

Statement on SB 299, Amending the Whistleblower Protection Act

Senator Jacob Candelaria recently introduced SB 299 for consideration this Legislative Session, a bill that amends key portions of the Whistleblower Protection Act. The Whistleblower Protection Act has been critical in protecting people in the state who have the courage to speak out about government corruption. While it is not clear what prompted this legislation, New Mexico Ethics Watch is greatly concerned that SB 299 would undermine key parts of the Act. There is nothing in the bill that broadens or improves the Whistleblower Protection Act – the bill’s sole aim is to narrow it.

 

Sen. Candelaria’s bill would:

 

  • remove contractors from the protection of the Act,
  • narrow the definition of what constitutes a retaliatory action,
  • remove malfeasance by a public officer as something that can be considered under the Act,
  • raise the standard for a waste of funds under the Act,
  • remove abuse of authority from the protections of the Act,
  • narrow the protections for retaliation under the Act,
  • remove the requirement that an employee who has been retaliated against be reinstated to his or her prior seniority, and replaces it with a far weaker, and more limited, discretionary reinstatement,
  • make it easier for a public employer to defend against claims under the Act,
  • raise the bar for when the Act can come into effect, and
  • add a major barrier to access to the courts to protect whistleblowers’ rights.

 

SB 299 bill cripples the protections afforded to public sector employees and contractors in the state who want to ensure that the public’s money is spent appropriately and that public officials are acting ethically. Douglas Carver, Executive Director of New Mexico Ethics Watch, said, “At a time when the people of New Mexico are crying out for ethics reform, this bill represents a leap backwards.”

 

Phil Davis, Board Secretary of NMEW noted, “This bill will result in greater freedom for employers to intimidate and retaliate against those who speak out on matters of public concern.”

 

Carver concluded, “We urge Sen. Candelaria to withdraw this bill. If he does not, we hope the Senate Public Affairs Committee tables SB 299 when it appears before them.”