Category : Press Releases

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 12, 2020

Contact: Kathleen Sabo, Executive Director, 505-274-2442 or ksabo@nmethicswatch.org

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:

Cannabis

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.

Firearms

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 http://nmethicswatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/NMEW-Lobbying-Report-Final-.pdf

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)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 2, 2020

Contact: Kathleen Sabo, Executive Director, 505-274-2442 or ksabo@nmethicswatch.org

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 http://nmethicswatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Oil-and-Gas-Report_05012020.pdf

Download a PDF of the press release.

New Mexico Ethics Watch Hires New Executive Director

New Mexico Ethics Watch announced today that its Board of Directors has hired Kathleen Sabo as the organization’s next Executive Director. Sabo is transitioning into the job and will assume full-time duties as of February 5, 2018. A Connecticut native, Kathleen received her B.A. from Fordham University in New York City and her Juris Doctorate from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA. She moved to New Mexico in 1991 and is a member of the New Mexico Bar. Kathleen has concentrated chiefly on legislative matters, providing legislative analysis to the New Mexico State Senate Judiciary Committee and New Mexico Legislative Reports, and serving as the Head Majority Analyst for the New Mexico State Senate. A long-time consultant to the New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts on legislation and numerous special projects, Kathleen represented the agency on a legislative task force and steering committee.

“I am very excited to work with NMEW as we continue to promote a culture of ethics in New Mexico,” notes Sabo. “I aim to channel my passion for living in an equitable and just society into expanding accountability and transparency in New Mexico government and beyond. We have ambitious plans and goals for 2018, including the release of our second Financial Disclosure Act report by March 1st.” Added retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard C. Bosson, NMEW Board Chair, “We are very pleased to welcome as Executive Director someone as accomplished as Kathleen. We look forward to our second year of activities in the public interest under her guidance.”

An award-winning journalist, Kathleen and the broadcast team at Albuquerque’s KUNM Public Radio received the 2015 First Place Top of the Rockies award from the Society of Professional Journalists for General Broadcast Excellence. She served for many years as the host and producer of KUNM’’s weekly public affairs program – The KUNM Call-In Show – and was an adjunct instructor in the Department of Communication and Journalism at the University of New Mexico. Kathleen has also consulted with numerous entities on business, media, music and recording projects as the principal of Voice and Verse.

The Board of NMEW is grateful to outgoing director Douglas Carver for his dedicated foundational work with the organization.

New Mexico Ethics Watch is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization, founded in 2016, dedicated to promoting ethics and accountability in government and public life. NMEW advances its mission through research, litigation, policy advocacy, education and media outreach.

New Mexico Ethics Watch Statement on the Inclusion of the Statewide Ethics Commission on the Interim Courts, Corrections, and Justice Committee 2017 Work Plan

New Mexico Ethics Watch is pleased that the Interim Courts, Corrections, and Justice Committee has included the statewide Ethics Commission on the committee’s work plan for the 2017 interim. “The ethics commission is one of the most important pieces of legislation that will be before the legislature in the coming years,” said New Mexico Ethics Watch Executive Director, Douglas Carver. “We are pleased that this interim committee will start the discussion of the elements of the commission during this interim legislative period. We hope that all residents of New Mexico will actively participate in the committee’s deliberations.”

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.

An Ethics Commission? Not quite.

Douglas Carver, NMEW Executive Director

You may have heard the news – New Mexico is getting an ethics commission!

Except not only does the commission need to be approved by the voters, but the constitutional amendment the voters will be asked to approve in November 2018 is missing essential details. There is no reason, however, why the Legislature cannot fill in those details before we vote on the commission a year and a half from now.

Yes, in the 2017 Legislative Session, the Legislature approved sending a constitutional amendment creating a state Ethics Commission to the people for a vote in the 2018 general election. Yet during the legislative process, all of the guarantees concerning the commission’s powers, scope, and jurisdiction were stripped out of it. These essential parts of what will constitute the commission were replaced with the construct “as provided by law”.

What does this mean? It means that the Legislature will put those powers in place at a later date, when they draft the enabling legislation for the constitutional provision. During the debate on the commission during the session, legislators balked at having these details protected in the constitution. Some legislators claimed such details should not be in the constitution, despite the fact that similar scope and powers are constitutionally protected for our state’s Judicial Standards Commission, one of the few New Mexico governmental entities that have national acclaim.

The one concrete part of the commission that would be protected in the constitution is the membership of the commission. This was a late change made in the typically frenetic final days of the session, and it is a change that causes great concern. As initially proposed, the seven-member commission would have had three appointees from the Governor, and four appointees from the Legislature. The membership now has six of its seven members appointed by or through the Legislature, with only one from the Governor. This unbalanced membership is problematic.

The Legislature promised that the provisions that were removed from the constitutional amendment creating the Ethics Commission – provisions concerning the commission’s transparency, openness, and independence – would be replaced in the enabling statutes that will put the powers of the commission into effect, statutes that we are told will be drafted in the 2019 Legislative Session.

But we do not have to wait until then.

The Legislature has three chances to produce the statutes that will put the Ethics Commission’s powers into effect – the 2017 interim committee period, which is about to begin; the 2018 Legislative Session; and the 2018 interim committee period.

For those unfamiliar with the interim committees (and you should know about them – the Legislature spends thousands of dollars supporting the work of these committees), they are committees made up of members of both chambers of the Legislature that meet in the summer and autumn months to learn about issues connected to the jurisdiction of the committee and – crucially, for the argument here – draft legislation to be considered during a Legislative Session. Often, at the end of an interim, a committee will endorse legislation, effectively giving its stamp of approval to the measure.

At present, there are over 25 of these committees. One in particular – the Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee, would have jurisdiction over any legislation concerning an Ethics Committee. This committee could and should schedule hearings on enabling legislation during this interim and, if necessary, in the 2018 interim, and produce a committee-endorsed bill so that the people know what powers the Legislature intends to give the proposed Ethics Commission.

There is an alternative way for the people to know what powers the Legislature intends to give the commission. The Legislature could request that the Governor to issue a message so that the enabling statutes for the proposed Ethics Commission could be considered in the 2018 Legislative Session. As that session will be a 30-day session, bills that are not revenue or appropriations will require a Governor’s message. Although the constitutional amendment for the commission will not have yet gone to the voters, there is a mechanism – called a contingent effective date – whereby the enabling statutes could be passed but would only go into effect if the constitutional provision is approved. This mechanism is used frequently, so it would not be unfamiliar to legislators. If this method was used, the enabling statutes for the commission would be locked in before we vote on the commission.

Of course, in an ideal world, there is nothing to stop the Legislature from approving a better version of the Ethics Commission in the 2018 Legislative Session – something closer to the measure that was initially introduced in the 2017 session. A potential amendment to the state constitution is passed by the Legislature under the form of a joint resolution, and joint resolutions can be introduced by the Legislature at any time in any session, and are not subject to the Governor’s wishes.

It is important that New Mexico gain a statewide Ethics Commission. It is more important, however, that the commission is not a hollow, powerless commission – that it has independence, transparency in its proceedings, and the power to independently conduct its investigations. It is vital that this is done right. The Legislature has ample time, and ample opportunity – with two interim periods and a Legislative Session – to let the people of New Mexico know what powers, duties, and scope they intend to give the commission before we enter the voting booth in November 2018.

When the Legislature stripped the protections for the commission out of the constitutional provision they approved, they said, Trust us, we will put them back in when we write the statutes. So we are asking the Legislature to show us that our trust was not misplaced. Show us what you intend before asking us to vote. Give us the whole package, so that we know what we are being asked to approve.

Don’t make us wait.

It is an Ethics Commission, after all. Let’s create it openly, transparently, and with proper deliberation.

The people of New Mexico are asking the Legislature, won’t you trust us?

*****

Douglas H. M. Carver is the executive director of New Mexico Ethics Watch, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to promoting more ethical governance in New Mexico. For five years he was a staff attorney for the Legislative Council Service, in which capacity he served on the Interim Legislative Ethics Committee and as lead staff for the Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee.

Published June 5, 2017 on NMPolitics.Net