Martinez heads down a slippery slope
Though the secretary of state says it’s legal for Gov. Susana Martinez to blur the line between lobbying the Legislature and campaigning, the situation has me questioning whether Martinez’s actions match with her campaign rhetoric about ethical behavior.
Early in the current legislative session, Martinez started webcasting legislative committee hearings on her bills and using the video to promote her views. She angered many lawmakers by showing selective parts of some hearings and including commentary about how committee members voted.
Taxpayers paid for that lobbying. The webcasting is being done by the webmaster in the governor’s office. The video is being published on Martinez’s official government website.
But another aspect of Martinez’s lobbying effort was paid for with campaign dollars.
As part of her push to pass a bill that would repeal the law that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, Martinez ran radio ads urging people to call their lawmakers and tell them to stop blocking the bill.
A couple of nonprofits complained that such use of campaign money violates the state’s Campaign Reporting Act. Secretary of State Dianna Duran says the expense is legal. I’ve already written that the blurring of the line between campaigning and lobbying exposes a potential gray area in the law and may indicate the need to tighten language in the Campaign Reporting Act.
But there’s a more concerning aspect to Martinez’s using both taxpayer and campaign dollars for the same lobbying effort.
Campaigning with public dollars?
Martinez argued, in her letter to Duran justifying the radio ads, that she’s already in campaign mode – three months into her tenure and more than 3.5 years before the 2014 contest in which she’s up for re-election. Running radio ads that lobby the Legislature on a policy issue promotes her position on that issue and bolsters her image, she says.
Martinez is using public dollars on that very same lobbying effort with her webcasting. In addition, every time she holds a news conference or puts out a news release from her government office pushing a bill, she is, using her own logic, strengthening her image.
So, following her own logic, does that mean Martinez is campaigning with public dollars when she webcasts or puts out a news release with taxpayer money?
The reality is that Martinez is lobbying and campaigning at the same time. She’s using both taxpayer money and campaign cash to do it. There is, at best, only a technical separation between her campaigning and lobbying.
That’s evidenced in the statement Martinez makes time and again about bills she’s pushing. Though she clearly wants legislation passed, what she’s been urging lawmakers to do is give her bills and up-or-down vote.
There’s an implicit and political threat in urging an up-or-down vote: Pass my bills or get on the record as opposing them so I can use it against you in the next election.
No separation between lobbying and campaigning.
Openly blurring the line
A lack of separation between campaigning and governing is nothing new. For example, former Gov. Bill Richardson, former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish and others have appeared in TV ads promoting the work of state agencies and paid for by taxpayers.
There was no good reason for Denish to appear in taxpayer-funded ads about education, except that it increased her statewide name recognition and improved her image as she ran for governor. But the thinly veiled campaign ad doubled as a public service ad, so taxpayer dollars were used to fund it.
Perhaps sensing an ethical quandary, others have pretended they weren’t blurring the line between campaigning and doing the work of their government jobs.
What’s different in Martinez’s case is that, with her assertion that she’s campaigning when she urges the public to lobby the Legislature, Martinez is openly blurring the line.
On one hand, you could say Martinez is being more transparent by admitting what she’s doing. On the other hand, it’s concerning that she doesn’t appear to have any qualms about it.
Perhaps Martinez is just embracing the reality of how things work today, and being transparent about it instead of trying to mask it. But it doesn’t sit right with me.
Doing things differently?
The blurring of the line between campaigning and governing seems to me to be a slippery slope. When you can spend taxpayer and campaign dollars on the same lobbying effort, maybe you can also justify spending taxpayer dollars on other things that are more about re-election than they are about doing the public’s business.
Many blur this line. But didn’t Martinez promise to do things differently than Richardson and Denish?
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