AP NEWS

AARP, NRA top list of lobbyist spending

May 23, 2017 GMT

One of America’s biggest special interest groups spent far more money than any other organization in the weeks after this year’s regular legislative session to push for a bill that Gov. Susana Martinez ultimately vetoed.

The money was not flowing from an industry or chamber of commerce. The last-minute push came from retirees.

AARP Inc., formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, topped the list for lobbyist spending after the 60-day session ended March 18. It campaigned for Martinez to approve the Caregiver Leave Act, which would have required businesses that provide sick leave to allow employees use it to take care of ill family members.

The organization spent about $40,000 on newspaper ads in The Santa Fe New Mexican and The Albuquerque Journal urging the governor to sign the measure.

Martinez vetoed the bill, but the campaign highlighted how some of the lobbyists spending the most money around Santa Fe this year were not trying to wine and dine lawmakers but instead rally New Mexicans to pressure state leaders on particular pieces of legislation.

“The process for making a law is two-part,” said Eugene Varela, state director for AARP New Mexico.

The first part is getting the Legislature to approve a law. “The second piece is that the governor has to sign the bill,” he said.

The group had named the Caregiver Leave Act as one of its priorities for the session, saying 277,000 New Mexicans care for parents, spouses and other loved ones and should be able to use sick leave already provided to them by their employers to perform those duties without losing pay.

The AARP still spent less than the group behind what appears to have been the biggest advertising push of the session.

A lobbyist for the National Rifle Association spent about $44,500 on internet ads in February as it opposed legislation to expand background checks for gun sales. The measure, which proponents said would close a loophole in the background check process, died in the House of Representatives after Democrats backed away from the proposal.

With the ad campaign, the organization appears to have topped spending by lobbyists during the session.

The New Mexico Golf Tourism Association ranked third for lobbyist spending between mid-January and early May, the period covered by the most recent round of financial reports by lobbyists and their employers.

The group gave $28,000 worth of golf passes to legislators. Ski New Mexico, a trade association for the state’s ski areas, ranked fourth for lobbyist spending. It gave $27,500 in lift tickets to legislators.

Scott Scanland ranked fifth in lobbyist spending since mid-January with almost $22,000. He represents more than two dozen organizations, including New Mexico State University and cigarette manufacturer Altria. Scanland’s expenses included nearly $17,000 on internet and newspaper advertising during the final days of the session to push bills on renewable energy tax credits.

Expensive advertising campaigns are relatively easy to track. But monitoring the sort of activity that is typically associated with lobbying — buying drinks and dinners for legislators and others in government — is more complicated thanks to a loophole in state law.

New Mexico law only requires lobbyists to report expenses totaling more than $100. A lobbyist does not have to report paying a dinner bill for a public official if the cost is under that threshold.

Some lobbyists report those expenses anyway. For example, Rebecca Waldrop, a lobbyist for the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi, listed $10.44 she spent at Tia Maria’s restaurant a few days after the session ended while dining with a “member of [an] executive official’s staff.” And many lobbyists appear to report cumulative spending each month.

Lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to approve a bill that would have required lobbyists to report the cumulative total of their expenses under $100 and provide a better sense of how much money groups are spending to influence public officials, even if they do not have to itemize each expenditure. Martinez vetoed the bill, saying it could have unintended consequences.

Contact Andrew Oxford at 505-986-3093 or aoxford@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewboxford.