By Ned Cantwell
Here’s the thing. You can shower me with all kinds of gifts. I will accept the Lexus. Nice gesture. Oh, and how I am looking forward to those two weeks in Hawaii at your expense.
Be warned, though. Those gratuities will have no effect on me whatsoever should I ever write about you, your company, your organization.
Isn’t that a crock? Yet, we are to believe that lobbyist gifts and political donations are accepted by lawmakers in some kind of vacuum, that they can emotionally separate themselves from the givers when it comes to voting on issues of huge importance to the generous lobbyists.
As lobbying goes, the most recent New Mexico report was comparatively mild. Just $239,000 was spent by lobbyists this year. Even so, this paragraph by David Miles of the Albuquerque Journal captures the essence (emphasis added):
“SANTA FE — Meals and beverages bought by lobbyists for legislators, state officials and their staffs since January: more than $149,900. Gifts from lobbyists: more than $15,700. Lobbyists’ access to lawmakers: priceless.”
Santa Fe gift giving ranges from the innocuous to the lavish. For instance, the New Mexico Primary Care Association did not go overboard when it spent $274 on teddy bears for legislators to raise awareness about health care needs of poor New Mexicans.
I can just see some pompous lawmaker getting all puffed up and addressing the assembly: “Mr. Speaker, I highly resent the notion my vote can be bought by a cheap little teddy bear!”
He is probably right. But can votes be bought? Can lawmakers totally divorce themselves from the benefactor when it is time to bite the legislative bullet?
Last year, Phelps Dodge spent nearly $36,000 for a dinner honoring a long-time legislator. Tell me you are going to accept such a lavish tribute and not feel some type of discomfort when it comes to voting against something Phelps Dodge needs.
Lobbyists would have us believe they give only out of love of the democratic process. Qwest Communications lives or dies by regulatory fiat. “We don’t do lobbying at our dinners,” said John Badal, state president of Quest. “Just as many other organizations up here, we host receptions or occasional dinners for members and their staffs in sort of a gesture of appreciation for the hard work they do up here. It affords us all an opportunity just to relax and get away from the grind.”
Oh, please. Four days before the House Business and Industry Committee unanimously endorsed a Qwest-supported bill relaxing regulatory oversight of telecommunications pricing, Qwest spent $2,050 on a dinner for the committee and its staff.
Would the committee have voted the same without the dinner? Maybe so. But just in case, here is a law the legislature should adopt:
Before any member votes on any piece of legislation affecting a company or organization, the legislator must stand and divulge publicly any gifts or campaign donations he has received from the special interest within the last three years.
Meanwhile, should any of you be considering that Lexus for me, please know I can indeed be bought. Metallic red would be nice.