What Biz Leaders In New Mexico Want

Feb 9, 2016

We are more than halfway through the legislative session and the bills are starting to move more quickly on their way to the finish line next Thursday. Gwyneth Doland is covering state government for the People, Power and Democracy Project. She spoke with KUNM's Chris Boros.

DOLAND: Thanks for having me, Chris.

BOROS: There’s a new poll that shows business leaders are really gung-ho about government reform.

DOLAND: Michael Rocca, a UNM political science professor, spent a year doing research with some grad students. They found that New Mexico has a system he called “Crony Capitalism.” We’ve talked a little about this before.

BOROS: And that means that in New Mexico it’s pretty easy for just about anyone to go to Santa Fe and ask for a tax break or some kind of special treatment for your project, your industry, your special interest group.

DOLAND: Yeah, that’s how it works . So the group that paid for that research which was released last week  also conducted the poll and we mentioned in the story I did earlier, we mentioned some of the interesting things, but there’s more in here that’s worth talking about.

BOROS: Like what?

DOLAND: Like the fact that business leaders are less happy than they were a year ago. These high-profile ethical problems, Dianna Duran who just served 30 days in jail and Senator Phil Griego who resigned in a cloud of scandal, the problems we’ve been having with campaign finance reports that have so many errors and omissions, all this seems to have had an effect on the perception of what it’s like to do business in our state. That’s why 91 percent of business leaders surveyed, there were 250 of them in New Mexico, which is a pretty big number, they say ethical behavior of elected officials is a pretty serious issue, 91 percent. And the number of business leaders who think New Mexico is on the wrong track is nearly half of them—43 percent. Last year it was closer to a third.

BOROS: What does this train wreck actually look like?

DOLAND: On paper it looks like the majority of business leaders saying that campaign donations and lobbying has a bigger impact on elected officials than voters do.

BOROS: But, aren’t business groups the exact peole out there who are giving big campaign contributions and paying lobbyists?

DOLAND: Ok, that’s a pretty good point.  In some cases, yes. The poll shows that they believe they’re being squeezed for donations. They believe that giving money makes it easier to get meetings with elected officials. And they think a lot of government contracts are actually given on the basis of political influence rather than who’s going to do the best job with the contract.

Perhaps more importantly, as a group it looks like they feel they shouldn’t have to spend money and pay lobbyists to get lawmakers to enact policies that help grow the economy and grow jobs and educated great workers.

BOROS: So what is it that they actually want to see?

DOLAND: They want campaign finance reform and transparency around lobbying. They want people to be able to see how much money is going from who to whom. The poll says business leaders want to keep the revolving door shut. They want to keep lawmakers from turning around and becoming lobbyists the day after they retire. They want lobbyists to list what bills and issues they’re working on. You can see this would be pretty good for the competition, ‘oh, what are they up to?’ They also want an independent ethics commission. They want tax reform exemptions [sic] they want to reform those exemptions and make sure they are working and they’re fair. And they want to make sure there aren’t too many no-bid contracts given away based on political connections.

BOROS: Thanks for the update, Gwyneth

Check out all of the content from our People, Power and Democracy project. It's a collaboration between KUNM, New Mexico In DepthNew Mexico PBS and the New Mexico News Port at UNM. Funding for the project comes from the Thornburg Foundation.