Local media outlets have been up in arms about the massive dollars that public agencies spend on “hired gun” lobbyists to get money out of the State legislature. And it's true--it’s a pretty outrageous system we have for divvying up our public dollars.
Larry Barker of Channel 13 did a nice piece on the enormous amount of funds spent on lobbying by government agencies. In it, he describes the lobbyists as “…hired guns. They are part of an elite group of men and women armed with fat government contracts they work behind the scenes at the legislature. Their clients: villages, schools, cities, counties, and state agencies. Even though you paid their bills, you don’t know who they are, what they do or how much they make.”
But what makes it ten times worse, and what Barker leaves out of his piece, is the enormous amount of money spent by private industry to woo legislato... and the sheer insider cronyism so on display at the Roundhouse. The little guys simply can’t compete in that environment. We don’t know how much private industry spends, but its massive. There is a solid professional class of lobbyists who get paid to persuade our elected officials to vote a certain way, and some of them are even the relatives of the legislators themselves. An elite group they most certainly are. And it’s in their best interest to keep a few government clients because it keeps them all in bed together.
The TIDD Greenfield Reform bill, known as HB 451, was heard last Wednesday in the Taxation and Revenue Committee. During the comments section of the hearing, a lobbyist named Daniel Weaks lobbied against the TIDD Reform Bill on behalf of Bernalillo County. Then Representative Elias Barela, who co-sponsored HB 451, called Weaks back and asked him to disclose that he is also a registered lobbyist for SunCal Corporation. SunCal, of course, is the massive California corporation lobbying hard for the creation of tax-payer funded TIDDs to subsidize their development on Albuquerque’s west side. And on the same afternoon he was lobbying against TIDD reform on behalf of Bernalillo County, Weaks was lobbying heavily for approval of SunCal’s TIDD appropriations request, which promises SunCal over $1 Billion in tax revenue over the coming decades.
To refresh your memory, the TIDD Reform Bill addresses serious concerns many legislators and community members have about the serious drain the current State TIDD statute potentially creates on the State’s budget. This Bill would have capped the amount of State Gross Receipts Tax given away to developers at 50% instead of 70%, and it would have implemented real accountability measures for TIDDs. HB 451 is a true compromise bill that does not eliminate TIDDs in the Greenfields.
That Bernalillo County would hire a lobbyist to speak against this reform demonstrates well what we have all pointed out: allowing the creation of TIDDs for new Greenfield housing developments leads to a balkanization of our State, with local governments only looking out for their own bottom line. How else can we interpret the lobbying of Bernalillo County against a bill that protects the future state ability to meet its fiscal obligations to all the small towns of New Mexico?
In essence, Bernalillo County lobbied for itself at the expense of the rest of New Mexico. And it lobbied for SunCal Corporation’s TIDD appropriations bill that was also being heard on Wednesday, by sharing a lobbyist with SunCal. When Weaks says he represents both Bernalillo County and SunCal, the two easily become equated in the minds of state legislators.
This smacks of the insider cronyism between private industry and our public entities that we’re always assured doesn’t exist.
Weaks, as an example, is one of the power lobbyists in the State, working the Capital for decades along with his wife, Marla Shoats. He wears one hat: the Daniel Weaks hat. He knows all the legislators, takes them out to dinner, sends them birthday cards, and tells them how to vote. SunCal has 12 registered lobbyists working the Roundhouse fulltime. Two are registered under SunCal, and the others are registered under Westland Devco, which is another name SunCal uses. The joke making the rounds at the Roundhouse is that you know you’re the cream of the crop if you were hired by SunCal in 2008.
In the midst of all this, the little guy (which is you and me) finds it hard, if not impossible to be heard. Take it from us. When you’re there it is blatantly obvious that the swarm of careerist lobbyists consider our Roundhouse their second home.
This is why the vast majority of New Mexicans need legislation in place that forces accountability and transparency, and that takes the money out of politics. We have real full-time jobs, and we can’t afford to wine and dine our legislators, we can’t afford to take them golfing or buy them nice Christmas presents, and we certainly can’t afford full-time hired guns to represent our interests at the Roundhouse, or City Hall. We need to level the playing field.
cross-posted on SWOPblogger