Commentary: New Mexico voters will have an opportunity in November to weigh in on whether New Mexico ought to create an independent ethics commission to hold government officials, candidates and contractors accountable when they violate the law. New Mexico is one of only six states that currently does not have an ethics commission.
A measure to amend Article 5 of the New Mexico Constitution to create a commission will appear on the Nov. ballot as Constitutional Amendment #2. It proposes to amend Article 5 of the Constitution of New Mexico to “create an independent state ethics commission with jurisdiction to investigate, adjudicate and issue advisory opinions concerning violation of laws governing ethics, standards of conduct and reporting requirements as provided by law.”
“After years of discussion by the legislature and state-convened task forces, our state’s reputation has been tarnished by earning repeated failing grades on national corruption scorecards, and by the prosecutions of multiple state officials. This amendment will allow for the ethics commission that New Mexicans have been asking for,” said Heather Ferguson, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, which has been supporting the measure for over four decades. Other advocates have included the NM League of Women Voters, the Albuquerque and Santa Fe Chambers of Commerce, the New Mexico Conference of Churches and Interfaith Worker Justice New Mexico.
Ferguson hopes the public will give it a resounding thumbs up.
If passed in the 2018 general election, the amendment will create a seven-member ethics commission that will have the power to initiate, receive and investigate complaints alleging violations of: standards of governmental conduct, procurement and lobbyist laws, campaign reporting and disclosure requirements.
The complaints may pertain to state officials; employees of the executive and legislative branches of government; candidates or other participants in elections; lobbyists and government contractors or seekers of government contracts. The commission will have its own subpoena power and can investigate and resolve complaints.
The seven-member commission is structured in a balanced way with no more than three members of the same political party. Members will be appointed as follows:
• One member by the Governor
· One member by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate
· One member by the Minority Leader of the Senate
· One member by the Speaker of the House of Representatives
· One member by the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives
· Two members of differing parties by the four legislatively appointed members
Once the amendment is passed by voters in 2018, the legislation that details guidelines for the commission and its specific duties will be heard in the 2019 legislature. This “enabling legislation” will empower and fund the commission to begin its work.
“In a democracy, public trust is precious, and citizens lose it when elected officials, state contractors, lobbyists and others who are perceived as ‘insiders’ seem to be above the law,” said Ferguson. “An ethics commission will restore peoples’ faith that when laws are broken, consequences follow.”
For more information on the independent ethics commission, go to www.YESonNMethics.com or call Heather Ferguson at 980-9086.