4 On Your Side investigates 'Corporate Legislators'
Posted at: 05/30/2012 9:01 PM
| Updated at: 05/30/2012 11:00 PM
By: Chris Ramirez, 4 On Your Side
The alcohol, gas and oil, medical suppliers, and gaming industries all have keen interests in New Mexico politics and these industries, as well as several others, give big money to political candidates.
The KOB 4 On Your Side team combed through every financial contribution made to every New Mexico legislator during the last two election cycles. We discovered 97 percent of legislators take contributions from everyday people, maybe $5 from grandma, $50 from a neighbor, $150 from a friend.
In the pages and pages of financial records, five legislators stood out from the rest. These five have only taken campaign contributions from corporations, political action committees, or special interest groups. And the businesses who donate are well known companies such as Chevron, Virgin Galatic, Anheiser Busch, Walgreens, Lovelace Health Systems, Conoco Phillips. These are big names that have big money.
The five legislators 4 On Your Side identified are Sen. Steven Neville, R-San Juan County; Sen. William Payne, R-Bernalillo County; Sen. David Ulibarri, D-Cibola County; Rep. Paul Bandy, R-San Juan County; Rep. James Strickler, R-San Juan County.
"It's pretty normal that the business community the medical, insurance, banking--that they tend to support pro-business legislators--both Republicans and Democrats," Rep. Strickler said.
"We've seen that you haven't taken financial donations except from lobbyists or corporations or PACS, why is that?" we asked Strickler.
"I'm unopposed so I don't normally fundraise from the citizens of my district, and I'm a small business owner and I've worked for corporations for 27 years, and so as a small business man, I do receive campaign contributions from the business community and it’s all unsolicited," Rep. Strickler explained.
Sen. Neville admitted that money shows up in his mailbox, but said it is unsolicited.
"We're entitled to use those funds to run the office of state senator. I use the funds to buy postage and office supplies and those kinds of things. By and large other than those relatively minor expenses-- cell phones and all that kind of stuff, I usually distribute it out to other candidates," Sen. Neville said.
Neville said for the past several election cycles, he has also run unopposed.
"It’s difficult to go in the economy and try to ask them for money,” Sen. Neville said. "The contributions that I have received have just come in the mail."
“Do you think one of the reasons no one has run against you is because they know you have these secure financial backings?" we asked.
"It's possible,” Sen. Neville replied. “But it would be easy for someone who is allied with oil and gas to tap into those same sources that I could in this county. If you're not strong in the private sector in this county, you're not going to be re-elected."
Rep. Bandy has also run unopposed.
"Do you worry that this sends this message that the legislation that you vote on or policy that you vote might be for sale?" we asked.
"No, because it's not for sale,” Rep. Bandy said. “People can say or believe whatever they want, it's a free country and I'm not worried about perception."
About perception…wewanted to know how our future lawmakers perceived this situation. We took our questions to students that are studying political science at Central New Mexico College in Albuquerque.
"Is there a problem when big business and lobbyists are financing our legislators and voters or constituents are not?" we asked the class.
"The politician should ask himself the question what is the right thing to do," said student Dewayne West.
"Corporations donate this money and they expect to get something out of it," said student Angelica Carr.
"I don't think that it’s wrong at all,” said student Seth Woodcock. “I feel that if you've worked and you've made those connections throughout your career and then you are using those resources, I find nothing wrong with that at all."
"Government has gone from for the people by the people to from big business to big business," said another student.
The diversity of opinion among the CNM class is wide, but they agreed that perception is important in politics and elected officials should work extra hard to ensure their pockets are lined with big business money.
"It's not that they are getting a quid pro quo, (campaign donors) are not asking for something in return--here's a check for 500 bucks, we expect you to do this--it doesn't work that way with me," Sen. Neville said.