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Don't ignore lobbyists' gift in Legislature

Ned Cantwell

New Mexico lobbyists, I’ve always thought, were nothing more than paid beggars. To my mind, the only thing that separated them from the guy on the street corner with a “hungry-need-work” sign is they wore nicer clothes.

What I’ve always thought was if there came a day when I had to decide between becoming a lobbyist and cleaning sewers, I would have to take some time off to think about it.

That’s until I ran into Bill Jordan and Ruth Hoffman. Both are registered lobbyists, Jordan for Voices for Children and Hoffman for Lutheran Government Ministries. While I “lobbied” from the comfort of an easy chair, they stalked the New Mexico Legislature to help me track a $50,000 appropriation for a nonprofit cause I am promoting.

These folks didn’t descend from snake oil salesmen, they came from the likes of Daniel Boone. They are professional trackers. You need one if you are going to follow any single piece of legislation through the Santa Fe system that seems almost by design to create confusion and intrigue.

Case in point: Max Coll, retiring Democratic powerhouse legislator from Santa Fe, admitted he was totally in the dark when there suddenly appeared 8 million bucks to fulfill the contract for a Boston company. The funds had been nixed by House appropriations but showed up in the capital outlay bill, inserted by a senator whose identity, Coll says, is a mystery.

With five minutes left in the session to consider such amendments, the bill passed with the $8 million intact.

Let me make this perfectly clear: I have no idea whether a lobbyist was dealing any cards on this $8 million, or whether he or she had any influence on the unnamed senator. But I am suspicious.

There is, it would seem to me, a whole lot of difference between the Jordans and the Hoffmans of this world who promote nonprofits and the slick operators who toil for corporations and industries.

Where lobbying gets sticky is when “gifts” go well beyond flowers for a birthday or a dinner reception. We’re talking about perks such as extended out-of-state fishing trips, Las Vegas visits, and Super Bowl excursions. If that stuff doesn’t make you nervous, you need to cut back on the Valium.

The Albuquerque Journal quotes a former legislator, Bob Perls. He says lobbyists play an influential role in the Legislature but are not for sale. “Legislators don’t vote one way or another because of a $500 or $1,000 contribution, but they do vote one way or another when they’ve had a strong relationship with a lobbyist who has become a good friend,” Perls maintains.

Well, OK, but the problem would seem to be the lobbyist could get pretty buddy-buddy with a legislator during a five-day trip paid for by the lobbyist’s boss.

Here’s what I think about the New Mexico State Legislature: It is populated, generally, by good folks who have our interests at heart. But there are exceptions. Let’s not kid ourselves that significant gifts or campaign contributions don’t influence legislative outcome.

Ned Cantwell is a retired newspaperman living in Ruidoso. Contact him at:

[email protected]

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