The Watchdog’s investigation of the state’s reporting system for lobbyists’ campaign expenditures identified plenty of room for improvement. Legislators have required lobbyists to submit reports shortly before the start of annual legislative sessions, and Secretaries of State have made those reports available online. Yet its still nearly impossible to tell in a timely manner what lawmaker got money from what lobbyists or lobbyists’ employers.
A nationwide group that analyzes campaign finance data found New Mexico’s system to be so riddled with problems, systematic independent review was impractical for them. The Watchdog’s review is among the most probing public critiques of this system to date.
The investigation discovered inconsistencies in the way reports are completed, vagaries in procedures for reporting and chronic lack of public inspection that have resulted in a system that costs lobbyists and taxpayers money but doesn’t tell taxpayers which lawmakers accepted how much money from whom at the time taxpayers need to know. The shortfall means reporters must either look somewhere else for news, or further tax state offices with requests for data that could and should be readily available online.
Whether you’re a concerned constituent, a media professional, a lawmaker or a state official responsible for campaign-finance records, there are some specific things you can do to make the system better. The Watchdog compiled a to-do list to help get you started…
- What the Secretary of State can do:
- Require donors to identify with reasonable particularity the candidates to whom they contributed. That means the full first name, last name and office of candidates, and the full name of PACS and party organizations.
- Require donors to identify whether they made the donation from their own funds or passed along a clients donation.
- Assure that all donations delivered for lobbyists employers are made in the employers names and listed as the employers donations, and, if necessary seek enforcement of the prohibition against making donations in one’s own name on behalf of another person.
- Provide the full 57-table campaign finance database for online download, without requiring individual requests.
- What lawmakers can do:
- Repeal or reform the law that allows the state to refuse to release state databases.
- Resolve any confusion that arises in various sections of the law related to donations lobbyists deliver for employers
- Assure adequate support for online systems that provide campaign finance records, and require state agencies to make raw data behind Websites such as the Campaign Finance Information System and the Sunshine portal is available for download.
- Require state agencies to keep archived datasets available online, and require their retention in beyond the usual terms of state records retention rules.
- What the media, constituents and activists can do:
- Routinely request and inspect complete copies of the campaign finance data.
- Pool resources, including among competitors and among print, broadcast and online companies to facilitate timely access, analysis and online presentation of campaign finance data independently of the state-run Web site.
- Routinely work with state offices to repair and improve online data presentations, and online access to complete datasets.
- Publicize deficiencies in access or presentation of digital data when lawmakers or state agencies drop the ball.