Campaign money bill hits snag

By Steve Terrell: The Santa Fe New Mexican

With time running out for this Legislature, a bill that would prohibit campaign contributions from lobbyists and state contractors hit a bump Monday in the House of Representatives.

After debating House Bill 118 for more than an hour, sponsor Rep. Joe Campos, D-Santa Rosa, asked to “roll over” the bill so a proposed amendment could be printed and distributed. A few minutes later, the House recessed to go into caucus about the state budget, putting off action on campaign bill until Tuesday.

With the session ending at noon Thursday, even if the House passes the campaign bill today, it still would have to clear the Senate and its committee process.

Fred Nathan of Think New Mexico remains optimistic. In “legislative time,” Nathan said, there’s still plenty of time for the bill to make its way through the Senate.

Campos said he’s confident the bill would pass the House. From there, however, he said, “It all depends on what the Senate wants to do.”

Campos confirmed that he’ll introduce an amendment to restore some features of the bill that were removed earlier Monday.

Before taking a break from the debate, Campos moved an amendment to allow public utilities to be able to make campaign contributions. Campos said the utilities are regulated by the state Public Regulation Commission and don’t compete for contracts.

However, Rep. Joe Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, pointed out that utilities do contribute to candidates. According to the Institute of Money in State Government’s Web site, the Public Service Company of New Mexico’s political action committee contributed more than $77,000 to state candidates in 2008.

Campos said the bill will be amended again to prohibit public utilities from making contributions and to prohibit all lobbyists and state contractors from contributing to political parties.

But one part of the bill that was cut out Monday will remain. That’s the prohibition against “bundling” — those who are prohibited from contributing themselves collecting contributions from others to give to a candidate. If the bill becomes law, bundling still would be allowed.

Rep. Jancie Arnold-Jones, R-Albuquerque, said she was disappointed that bundling had been removed. “That was an important part of the bill.”