With political corruption in New Mexico making national news in recent months, legislators in Santa Fe will again be asked to support a wide variety of “ethics” proposals which include everything from taxpayer financing of campaigns to strict limits on donations those doing business with the state can make to public officials. Some of these proposals are better than others, but none are a silver bullet when it comes to stopping corruption. Sadly, there are no simple solutions when it comes to creating more ethical human beings.
To some, that may sound like a cop out or surrender to those who refuse to even attempt to improve New Mexico’s governing institutions. That is not the case. In fact, limiting the ability of those doing business with the state to donate to politicians is eminently sensible. But there are even better and simpler ways to improve ethics. Simply put, sunshine is the best disinfectant.
Ironically, while the sun shines more than 300 days each year in New Mexico, it rarely penetrates the walls of our state government. For starters, we are one of only three states in the nation that does not broadcast its floor sessions on web cam or television. Last year the Senate passed a resolution that would have allowed cameras to record floor activities in that body, but leadership of both parties recently pulled the plug on the initiative.
The House, on the other hand, remains unwilling to embrace even the most basic of transparency measures. Floor votes in the House are not posted online and the only initiative that would enable cameras to shed some light on the House’s activities are the guerrilla-style filming of legislative activities by Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones using her own equipment. New Mexico needs to step into the 20th Century, let alone the 21st!
In addition to enabling citizens of Las Cruces, Farmington, Carlsbad, and Albuquerque to see for themselves what is going on in their Legislature in Santa Fe without having to make the trek in person, several other transparency initiatives, if adopted, would give citizens a better idea what is happening in Santa Fe. First and foremost, there is an effort underway including legislation sponsored by a bi-partisan group of legislators that would create a searchable, online database of government spending.
Similar legislation, which was championed by then Sen. Barack Obama in Congress, has resulted in the creation of a database of federal spending. Seventeen states have created similar databases with many other states now considering similar legislation.
Enabling average citizens to log on to their computers to find out where their money is going and to whom will not only enhance government transparency, it will allow each of us to become our own government spending watchdog, thus making sure that government is spending taxpayers’ money appropriately and effectively.
While these reforms focus on the state level where ethics have become a hot topic and transparency efforts should begin, transparency is the best policy for all levels of New Mexico government from the Public Regulation Commission to city council and school boards.
Ultimately, government belongs to each of us, the citizens’ of New Mexico. Legislators and public officials throughout the state work for us and, while we may have differences of opinion on how resources are allocated and what government does on a daily basis, we all deserve to be empowered to know what is being done on our behalf. And, to make sure that such actions are undertaken in an honest manner that holds up to public scrutiny.
Reforming ethics may raise the standards by which our leaders are judged, but only by giving the public the tools can enhanced ethics mean better government.
Paul Gessing is the President of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility.