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Lawmakers Eye Elections

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People, Power and Democracy is a project focusing on state government ethics and transparency.  Gwyneth Doland spoke with KUNM's Chris Boros.

BOROS: So, hey tell us what’s happening in Santa Fe?

DOLAND: Well last night we hosted a great event near the Roundhouse and we got to talk to a bunch of interesting people about money in politics.

BOROS: And was the focus on the primaries?

DOLAND: No, we’re not talking about the presidential primaries [laughter]. That’s what everybody else is talking about.  I’m looking at money in state politics, but you know it is related to the presidential stuff. Having a big election like this year really opens the floodgates of money because there’s so much at stake. So Bernie and Hillary and Donald and Ted, they are out there asking for money, and the political action committees are spending a ton of money and so are the outside groups. And all of that eventually filters down to the states.

BOROS: Okay but how does this all work?

DOLAND: Well, Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino was with us last night and he kind of explained that a lot of the big groups are spending money trying to influence national issues.  And they spend a lot of it on presidents and Congress but you know they’re also spending money in support of candidates at the state level who have positions they like: on abortion, guns, the environment, stuff like that, hoping to influence state laws as well.

BOROS: Yeah but don’t we already have a lot of local groups who are already raising money? Gov. Martinez was recently chosen to lead the Republican Governor’s Association, they and their Democratic counterpart, you know they spend a lot of money in the states.

DOLAND: It comes from all over the place, Chris. Outside groups you know—labor unions, business groups, they’re all spending more money than ever.

BOROS: So what then does this mean for our legislative session?

DOLAND: I know, I’m going to make the connection here.  It means a lot. It means that these lawmakers see every single vote they’re taking right now in terms of how it’s going to look later in a television ad or on a piece of campaign mail. So this session we’ve been talking about you know giving certain tax breaks for businesses or raising certain taxes. There was a late-term abortion ban, the driver’s license issue.  There’s a push to change the punishments for child pornography. Reforming the bail system. All of these are really complicated issues that become very simple when you’re a senator or representative who’s running for reelection and you know that there are deep pockets just waiting to be spent making you look terrible.

BOROS: But the Supreme Court said we can’t really limit all of this money—and a lot of people don’t really want to. So how can things change?

DOLAND: Yeah I mean some people say let’s just rid of all this money but there’s a lot of people who don’t want to.  I’ve been reporting this week about a push by groups across the political spectrum who want to have disclosure. They want to say, “Fine, spend this money. If we can’t limit it just tell us where it’s going.” They want the public to see as much information as possible.

BOROS: And this is a fight that’s been led by groups like Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, right?

DOLAND: Yes, yes, right, but also by business groups who say they are getting really fed up with the amount of money they have to spend in order to play in the political arena.

BOROS: All right well the session ends next Thursday, so I guess this is crunch time, yeah?

DOLAND: It is. I’ve talked to some folks working on these bills this week and they are hustling, but there’s not much time.  And again, I think many lawmakers are afraid that voting for or against things can be used against them.  So a lot of stuff is just kind of being left on the table.   

BOROS: All right well, Gwyneth Doland, hey thanks for coming in for the update.

DOLAND: Thank you, Chris.

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.

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