Lobbyists and their clients handed out about $620,000 in campaign contributions to legislators, state officials and political committees in the months leading up to this year's legislative session.
The biggest contributors were health care companies, oil and gas companies, real estate developers and a union representing public employees, according to a review of lobbyist spending reports by The Associated Press.
This year is a busy campaign season. All 70 seats in the House are up for election along with statewide offices, including governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and land commissioner.
Lobbyists delivered the contributions from late April through December, a time when legislators were facing budget problems that led to a weeklong special session in October and then preparing for the 30-day session that started in January.
The largest lobbyist campaign donor was a labor union representing public employees, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers, which gave $51,520. Of that, $40,000 went to the state Democratic Party in December and $5,000 to a legislative campaign committee that helps Democratic candidates for the state House of Representatives.
Health care companies and their lobbyists, contributed $128,000. Part of that came from managed care companies under contract with the state to provide health care through Medicaid: Presbyterian Health Plan, $30,550, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico, $20,900. The New Mexico Hospital Association gave $27,175 and Pfizer Inc., the world's largest drugmaker, contributed $17,850.
Oil companies gave about $92,000. ConocoPhillips, the third-largest U.S. oil company, contributed $36,300 to about 60 legislators, Attorney General Gary King and Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, who is running for governor. Other donors included Chevron, the second-largest U.S. oil producer, $29,500, and Occidental Petroleum, $13,000.
Developers contributed about $59,000. That included $28,900 from Forest City Covington, developer of the Mesa del Sol real estate project in Albuquerque, and $18,250 from Westland DevCo, part of a California-based company developing Albuquerque's west side.
Other large donors included brewing giant Anheuser-Busch Cos., $30,000; Sunland Park horse racing track and casino, $14,000; and cigarette maker Reynolds American, $12,750.
During this year's session, the Legislature focused on tax increases and spending cuts to balance the state's budget.
Lawmakers failed to agree on a budget package during the 30-day session. However, they returned to work earlier this month in a special session and approved $230 million in tax increases to help pay for schools and government operations in the coming year. Medicaid, which is the state's largest health care program, was largely spared budget reductions.
The gross receipts tax on goods and services was increased. A food tax was partially reinstated. Some New Mexicans will pay higher personal income taxes and the tax on cigarettes was raised 75 cents a pack. Liquor taxes were not increased, however. Gov. Bill Richardson has until Wednesday to decide whether to sign the tax increases and a budget bill.
Lawmakers considered a wide range of other measures during the 30-day session, including a proposal that would have banned political contributions from lobbyists, state contractors and those seeking government subsidies.
The campaign finance restrictions passed the House but died in the Senate. The proposal will be pushed again during the 2011 Legislature, according to Fred Nathan, executive director of Think New Mexico, a think tank that advocated the lobbyist contribution ban.
"Clearly $600,000 gives these lobbyists a lot of influence with our elected officials, influence which can distort public policy decisions and which inherently undermines trust in government. That is why seven states now prohibit political contributions by lobbyists," Nathan said.
Currently, lobbyists are prohibited from making campaign contributions to legislators, statewide elected officials and candidates for those offices from Jan. 1 through the end of a legislative session. The prohibited period continues for the governor and gubernatorial candidates for 20 days after adjournment to cover the time when bills can be signed and vetoed.
Besides making campaign contributions, lobbyists spent about $189,000 from late April through December on meals, drinks, gifts, entertainment and receptions for lawmakers and other state officials, according to expenditure reports filed with the secretary of state earlier this year. That's on top of about $354,000 spent during the first four months of 2009, including when the Legislature was in session, according to previously disclosed reports.
Among the expenditures last fall was $4,200 by the University of New Mexico for legislators to attend a reception and football game — UNM against New Mexico State University — and about $3,900 for lawmakers to go to the Lobos-Aggies basketball game in December along with a briefing by UNM officials on their priorities for the legislative session.
On the Net:
Secretary of State: www.sos.state.nm.us