New Mexico voters to decide on need for ethics commission
The Associated Press
October 28, 2018 02:58 PM
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — It will be up to New Mexico voters to approve a constitutional amendment that would allow for the creation of an independent ethics commission.
The proposal is on the ballot this year after many years of debate in the Legislature over establishing such a panel to address complaints involving state officials, legislative employees, lobbyists and government contractors.
The state has had a string of public corruption scandals going back more than a decade, with two state treasurers, two state senators, a secretary of state and a deputy insurance superintendent going to prison on criminal charges.
The number of states with ethics commissions has steadily increased in recent years, leaving New Mexico as one of six without one, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
"I think it's overdue," former U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman told the Albuquerque Journal. Bingaman, a Democrat, and former Gov. Garrey Carruthers, a Republican, are helping rally support for the measure.
"This will help, I believe, to reassure people that the folks representing them are generally honest and above board," Bingaman said.
Heather Ferguson, executive director of New Mexico Common Cause, said an ethics commission will help build trust in government.
Aside from investigating possible corruption, she told the Santa Fe New Mexican that a commission would serve as an educational tool for officials seeking to avoid violating laws.
She said the panel should be able to provide opinions much faster than the state attorney general's office, which also weighs in on questions from lawmakers and others.
It's unclear whether an ethics commission would reduce public corruption. A 2013 study at the University of Missouri found no correlation between corruption rates and the existence of such commissions.
Paul Gessing, president of the libertarian think tank Rio Grande Foundation, argued in a recent opinion piece that smaller government, rather than a commission, would allow journalists, activists and taxpayers to better track and analyze bureaucracies, programs and subsidies.
If approved by voters, the Legislature would determine how the commission would operate. Lawmakers would have to decide when complaints are made public and how to fund the commission's operations.
Some worry the Legislature's ability to dictate how the commission would work could give some lawmakers a chance to water down the proposed agency, making it less effective.
Republican Rep. Jim Dines of Albuquerque is a retired attorney who spearheaded a bipartisan push to put the question to voters. He said much of the commission's business should be handled in the open.
"The real strength of the commission will be its transparency," Dines said. "We don't want it to be a toothless tiger."
The Associated Press
Created: October 28, 2018 02:58 PM
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