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New Mexico has a long history of battling political corruption, dating back to well before statehood.
The Lincoln County War (1878-1881), which is usually recalled as the backdrop for the exploits of Billy the Kid, began as a political fight over the control of government contracts for beef and other provisions. Those government contracts were heavily influenced by the patronage of the powerful “Santa Fe Ring,” a group of lawyers, judges, businessmen and politicians from both parties who gained control of the territorial legislature and courts and dominated the economic life of New Mexico by manipulating public offices for private gain.
Unfortunately, this culture of corruption has continued into modern times. It can be seen in the troubling attitude that this is simply how business is done in the state. For example, in 1984 New Mexico State Investment Officer Phillip Troutman and Deputy State Treasurer Ken Johnson were convicted of conspiracy to commit extortion. According to the sworn testimony at trial, Troutman solicited a political contribution from a bank executive, emphasizing that he controlled the bank’s ability to receive state business. Johnson then stated, “You have to pay to play,” because “this is how business is done.”
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