The corrupt are in jail, more regulation needed?

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By Harold Morgan

“Money is good,” my daughter says.

In politics, money means communication – that is, speech. Lobbyists have a job. It is communication.

A new report from Think New Mexico, a non-partisan but liberal think tank in Santa Fe, treads the well-trodden path that money in politics is evil, especially money from people contributing to candidates.

The title is, “Restoring Trust.” The subtitle is, “Banning Political Contributions from Contractors and Lobbyists.” Find it at www.thinknewmexico.org.

The report opens with a history of political corruption in New Mexico. The thrust of the history is that dirty deeds have been done, people have gone to jail, so we need more rules. The argument seems to be that since people have gone to jail, the system does not work and we need more regulation. The logic there escapes me.

The report shows New Mexico, among 16 states with “citizen legislatures,” leads the nation with seven lobbyists per legislator. That’s bad, of course. Terrible. Awful.

A scan of the Secretary of State’s lobbyist list sheds some light on those seven. The list is the Index of Organizations with Active Lobbyists. Find it at: http://ethics.sos.state.nm.us/LOBBY/ORG.HTM.

I only looked for nonprofit or public organizations because they are pure as the driven snow. There is no obvious way to sort the lobbyist list.

Of 10 organizations I checked, the Association of Educational Retirees leads the pack with 28 registered lobbyists. The Public Employees Retirement Association has a mere four lobbyists.

AARP, also a retiree group, weighs in with 21 lobbyists. The League of Women Voters has 17 lobbyists spread among three groups. Even the infamous ACORN has one lobbyist. The 10 organizations totaled 103 lobbyists.

One of my 10 was the Department of Public Safety, which has eight registered lobbyists. With DPS and other public sector organizations with lobbyists, we have people paid with taxpayer money to talk to the Legislature about getting more taxpayer money. The concept redefines the definition of self-serving.

In the report, the state’s limited approach to public financing is praised, but not for being limited. New Mexico is “one of only five states that provide full public financing for some statewide elections,” the report says. Then there is the admission that “a number of obstacles,” starting with money, block expanding the system. In our land of enchanting billion dollar deficits, public election financing can’t be nearly the priority of movie subsidies.  

Not only does Think New Mexico want to ban contributions from contractors and lobbyists, the ban would extend to anyone receiving government subsidies under certain defined purposes. Seems to me that should apply to public employee or retiree unions and associations.

Other liberal “reformers” call for more rules, more bureaucracy from commissions. Behavior isn’t discussed.

The weakness of contribution limits and commission proposals is that rules are made to be broken. Systems are made to be exploited or ignored.

In any case, plenty of evidence exists that commissions and their layers and layers of rules either don’t work or create unintended consequences much worse than the original problem.

Behavior is what counts. My modest encounter with state government’s culture of corruption came a long time ago during my brief employment in what was called the Department of Commerce and Industry. The massively unqualified department Secretary stopped by and asked me to buy a ticket to an event to cover the campaign deficit for a failed Democratic candidate. Astonished (silly me), I babbled I had no money and that was that.

The only real answer is watching behavior. Is your legislator doing the job – coming to the endless meetings, talking to you? If not, vote for someone else. Maybe even run, yourself.

© 2009 New Mexico News Services