It is one of the dull truisms of life: “You get what you pay for.”
The citizens of New Mexico pay their legislators nothing, no salary at all, just a small per diem for daily expenses.
Sometimes that meal money can be pocketed when somebody else buys them a meal. During their per diem period when the law-makers are in session, the banquet rooms of Santa Fe’s fine hotels are banking big bucks feeding State Senators and Representatives.
Here are some items from the first of 2 mandated lobbyists’ spending reports:
8 banquet-size meals at La Fonda, 7 at the Inn at Loretto, 2 ay Rio Chama, and 1 a piece at l Dorado, la Posada, The Hilton, the Pink Adobe, Shohko, Piccolinol the Coyote Café, and Restaurant Martin. That dinner cost lobbyist John Christopher of Comcast more than $10,000, and it was nowhere near the biggest tab.
The NM Mining Association and the NM Oil and Gas Association each spent more than $15,000 on dinners at The Hilton and La Fonda.
There were several bills introduced this year to toughen environmental law enforcement on the extraction industries. None became law.
Did I say you get what you pay for?
Reality is usually a little bit subtler than that. As our guest Sandra Fish wrote for NM In Depth: [Republican] “Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell is a race horse owner who often proposes and advocates for legislation that impacts the racing industry.” Which, she told Sandra, only makes sense: “I’ve raised horses all my life, I’ve grown up in the agricultural sector, I know about agriculture,” Ezzell said. “It’s in the interests of all the people of the state to have somebody who has some expertise.”
Her colleague, Democratic Sen. Cisco McSorley, author of years of failed attempts to clean up Statehouse politics, translated for Sandra: “As long as the people of the state of New Mexico will not pay their legislators to make them an independent body,” McSorley said, “We don’t have conflicts of interest,” “We have areas of expertise.”
For all this information about lobbyists’ spending, we citizens can thank 3 things: 1) increasing public demands for transparency in how our politicians do their jobs 2) the rise of computers that make collection of lots of data not just possible but relatively fast and inexpensive and 3) a new cadre of journalists adept at mining big data for meaningful information, journalists like the award winning data-journalism specialist of the fine news website, nmindepth.com, Sandra Fish. Sandra, welcome to our HERE & THERE conversation.
Sandra Fish is a data journalist with New Mexico In Depth and independent journalist for Colorado Public Radio. She has reported for Al Jazeera America, the Orlando Sentinel, the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville and the Camera in Boulder. Fish received her B.A. in Journalism and Political Science and her M.A. in Political Science at Iowa State University. She is also President of the Journalism and Women Symposium, which supports the empowerment & growth of women in journalism.