Pay to Play and Ethics Reform

Is New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson just a high-profile scapegoat for the glaring need for ethics reform in New Mexico?

Take a look at this piece by Marjorie Childress at the New Mexico Independent, in which several well-respected political observers assert that “play for play” politics are rampant, especially in New Mexico, one of five states with no contribution limits. (Yup, Illinois is one of them.)

“There’s a lot of pressure that stems from the design of our government itself for people to give,” says UNM political scientist Lonna Atkeson. “Even if the politician doesn’t demand it, maybe people think it’s expected that they’ll contribute. What they receive may not be what they want. So are they actually buying access or something else? It can create the appearance of corruption even when it doesn’t exist.”

Adds New Mexico Common Cause executive director Steve Allen:

“The way it works is very subtle and, frankly, not illegal.”

The best way for New Mexicans to keep this from happening again is to make pay for play explicitly against the law, says Allen.

Laws requiring contribution limits and public financing mechanisms would go a long way toward taking the money out of politics, Allen says, noting that he expects at least one legislator to introduce a bill calling for public financing of statewide elections during the upcoming legislative session.

It’s worth noting that New Mexico is one of just five states with no contributions limits.

That’s a start.

Let’s just hope New Mexico legislators remember the embarrassing situation we’re all suffering through now when the legislature convenes on Jan. 20.

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