New Mexico – House Bill 604, co-sponsored by Representative Brian Egolf (D-Santa Fe) and Representative Nate Gentry (R-Albuquerque), was approved today by the House Voters and Elections Committee on a bipartisan vote of 10-1.
The bill would bar registered lobbyists and major government contractors (those seeking or holding contracts worth $50,000 or more) from making political contributions to candidates for state public office. The bill would also increase transparency and accountability in election spending by requiring that anyone - including nonprofit organizations, unions, and corporations - that engages in political advocacy must report and disclose the sources of the funds used for that advocacy.
The legislation was drafted by Think New Mexico, a nonpartisan, results-oriented think tank that proposed the bill in a 2009 report titled: Restoring Trust: Banning Political Contributions from Contractors and Lobbyists.
"This bill goes to the heart of pay to play corruption by removing the pay' part of the equation," said Fred Nathan, Executive Director of Think New Mexico. "These reforms will level the playing field so that lobbyists are competing on the merits of their arguments and state contractors are competing on the basis of price and quality, rather than on political contributions. The bottom line is that this bill will enhance the voices of everyday New Mexicans and lessen the influence of special interests in the political process."
A dozen other states have enacted laws banning political contributions from government contractors, lobbyists, or both, and elected officials in those states have found that the reforms have improved the political cultures of their states, according to Think New Mexico's report.
The reforms build on New Mexico's Gift Act, which was enacted by a strong bipartisan majority in 2007. The Gift Act prohibits state contractors and registered lobbyists from making gifts worth more than $250 to state candidates or public officials.
As Think New Mexico explains in its 2008 report, the Gift Act begs the question: if we believe that lobbyists and major government contractors should not give gifts worth more than $250, why should they be able to make campaign contributions worth as much as $10,000 in a single election cycle?
House Bill 604 goes next to the House Judiciary Committee, which is considering several related campaign finance disclosure bills.
Think New Mexico is best known for winning passage of landmark laws making full-day kindergarten accessible to every child in New Mexico, repealing the state's regressive food tax (and successfully defeating efforts to reimpose it), redirecting millions of dollars a year out of the state lottery's excessive operating costs and into full-tuition college scholarships, and introducing free market competition into the title insurance industry to lower closing costs for homebuyers and homeowners who refinance their mortgages.
More information is available on the organization's website at: www.thinknewmexico.org.