Money may indeed be the root of all evil. In which case, it’s perhaps fair to say the plant’s seeds are sewn in the political work of lobbyists at various levels of our American democracy. How else might we explain the fact that some of the most vulnerable citizens in New Mexico, public school children and senior citizens, were among the losers in the 2015 legislative session?
But lobbyists and lobbying are also as American as the Declaration of Independence. The 18th-century American colonists (free, land- and property-owning white men) lobbied the British Empire to lower its financially crippling taxes on their imports. Some amongst this constituency disguised themselves as Native Americans and dumped tea into Boston Harbor to protest what they called "taxation without representation."
A short while later, many of these same businessmen and farmers (former lobbyists proclaimed patriots) became our nation's founders. This offers some insight into the murky line that still exists between corporations, lobbyists and the business of our political democracy.
While most Americans see the obvious structural problems presented in this triad of private business, the influence of lobbying firms and the best interests of the American people, many of our politicians seem to have cultivated a convenient blind spot.
At the close of election and legislative cycles, pundits, political analysts and some politicians bemoan the deleterious effects of money on US politics, while legislative gridlock on campaign finance reform attests to the ambivalence that many among the elected apparently feel toward their obligations to their voting constituencies, and their agreements with big-dollar donors and lobbyists.
This past legislative session in New Mexico, a bill introduced by Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, aimed to illuminate some of the spending in dark corners by lobbyists in the New Mexico Legislature. House Bill 155, in its original form, would have required lobbyists to disclose what interests they represented as well as compelled those who employ lobbyists to report payments to lobbyists who represented their interest in the Legislature.
Though the bill passed both chambers, these two disclosure provisions were gutted from the legislation. By whom, you might ask? The elected officials who would have been accountable to the information released due to the bill's disclosure requirements. Had the measure passed in its original form, it may have contributed to a more transparent political climate in New Mexico, allowing voters opportunities to connect dots between the outcomes in the state's legislative process and the money influencing them.
In its current form, the measure simply requires that the information currently provided by lobbyists, after the lawmaking session is completed, be accessible on a database provided and maintained by the secretary of state.
Here's the thing: Voters should have access to accurate information about who may be influencing our political officials or could be undermining voter interests.
Despite the obvious influence of big business, nonprofits and private lobbying interests (such as oil and gas firms, gun manufacturers and the military industry) or the fact that businesses as of late enjoy the same privileged status as human beings, some of us still hold the romantic view that the citizenry should wield the greatest influence in a democracy.
The governor signed the watered-down bill on April 7, just as this issue was going to bed. While voters may not be able to put the lobbyist genie back in the bottle, unless we're happy with a government that is an expression of capitalistic and legislative conflation, we should at least be able to determine who's rubbing the lamp. During the next session, theLegislature should get some guts and go after this issue with a bigger hammer.
Andrea L Mays is a Santa Fean and an American Studies scholar who teaches at the University of New Mexico. Weigh in on contemporary culture and politics by writing email@example.com