Little progress was made on ethics reform in a key Senate committee Friday, leaving some worried about the prognosis for reform this session.
Twelve ethics bills were before the Senate Rules Committee. One was forwarded to the next committee without a recommendation while another remained in the committee after a tie vote on a tabling motion.
Panel members sent a bill (SB261) by Sen. Sue Wilson, R-Sandia Park, which would eliminate pensions for convicted felons, on to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration without endorsing or opposing it.
The committee tied when voting on a motion to table a bill that would expand the state’s use of public funds to finance campaigns. The current system, which applies to a limited number of state offices, would be extended to candidates for the Legislature and other elected offices, including governor. The vote means the measure remains in the committee.
The measure’s sponsor, Sen. Eric Griego, D-Albuquerque, said he was disappointed by the committee’s decision.
“This is the most comprehensive reform we could make,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, made the motion to table to bill. He has said in the past that candidates ought to be able to ask supporters for money, and that government money shouldn’t be spent for campaigns.
The Republican members of the panel voted to table the measure, while Democrats opposed the motion.
Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque, spoke in favor of the bill.
“Until we enact something like what Sen. Griego is proposing, until we go to some form of a public financing system, we are going to be continuing to backflips and somersaults and handstands and all kinds of gyrations to avert the perception that money buys influence and access in our political process,” she said.
Griego said Friday’s vote sends the wrong message about reform.
“To me this sends a pretty strong message about how serious we are about this issue,” Griego said.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, left the room before the vote. He later said he was heading down to the Senate floor to get the chamber’s meeting started on time.
He said he opposes the measure and would have voted against it had he remained in the committee hearing.
“I don’t want taxpayers to pay for elections,” he said, “especially during a recession.”
Other bills weren’t heard by the committee, which discussed other non-ethics bills and then ran out of time before the floor session began. The committee is scheduled to meet again at 8 a.m. Monday.
Griego was concerned that the ethics bills have yet to make it out of committee.
“If they don’t start moving quickly...I think we’re taking about a pro forma treatment of these issues,” he said.