NM’s acceptance of conflicts of interest in the Legislature breeds corruption

We’ve all heard the rhetoric from legislators whining about not getting paid enough as legislators (despite it being part-time, they make per diem and receive a pension after ten years of service). The Legislature being part-time has given legislators a gaping wide loophole for corruption, with “ethics” lawyers and parliamentarians claiming because the Legislature is part-time, corruption is A-Ok! 

We saw this just recently with millionaire Speaker of the House Brian Egolf (D-Santa Fe) getting off scot-free for sponsoring a bill, H.B. 4, which would line his pockets as a civil rights attorney due to the elimination of qualified immunity — incentivizing civil rights lawsuits that will cripple local governments, and thus flush loads of cash into his law firm’s bank account.

But a supposed “ethics” judge says that kind of shameless public corruption is perfectly fine in response to a former judge’s ethics complaint alleging his bill is a conflict of interest because he would personally benefit from it. James Starzynski, a retired judge of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New Mexico, said the very valid ethics complaint failed to state the necessary facts to “support a claim upon which relief can be granted.”

So, once again, public corruption has been rubber-stamped by the State of New Mexico. And Egolf can make millions by bankrupting local governments and putting targets on law enforcers’ backs since H.B. 4 is now state law. 

Let’s also talk about another legislator who will make out like a bandit after the 2021 Legislative (special) Session following the passage of H.B. 2 co-sponsored by state Sen. Katy Duhigg (D-Bernalillo). 

After her bill’s passage legalizing recreational marijuana in New Mexico, Duhigg announced she is opening up a marijuana-focused law firm, which she will now make loads of money off of following her bill’s passage.

According to the Santa Fe New Mexican

“People are rightly asking, ‘Why wasn’t this disclosed?’ ” Duhigg said in a telephone interview Monday.

“Had this been something I was planning on doing, I should have and would have made that disclosure,” she said. “But it didn’t exist then and, honestly, it didn’t even occur to me.”

You really believe that? She had no plans of making money off of her bill whatsoever? Yeah, right!

Now, what about state Rep. Angelica Rubio? She worked for the illegal immigration group “NM CAFé,” which harbors criminal aliens through churches across New Mexico. At the same time that she served as the group’s executive director, she sponsored bills in the Legislature to make illegal aliens’ lives easier by eroding immigration provisions on the state level.

As I reported in 2019: 

Rep. Rubio, who is currently serving her second term in the House, is the Executive Director of a pro-illegal immigration group called NM COMUNIDADES EN ACCIÓN Y DE FÉ (CAFé), joining the group in May of 2018 according to her LinkedIn profile and CAFé’s website.

CAFé has actively fought for HB-195 in the New Mexico House of Representatives, which her group would benefit from, designating the state of New Mexico a “Sanctuary State.” As well, Rubio herself is sponsoring HB-287, which would restrict the federal government from using New Mexico land to construct a border wall or fence. CAFé organized a march just last week, with Rubio rallying to the crowd to urge other legislators to vote for the measures.

Rubio, whose group would directly benefit from the passage of HB-195 and HB-287 must recuse herself because the conflict of interest could not be clearer, especially since she is the head of the organization. Furthermore, she must withdraw HB-267 from further consideration. Otherwise, it would be a violation of the Legislative Ethics Guide.

But an ethics complaint filed at the time by me got a response from Rep. Daymon Ely (D-Bernalillo), Chair of the House Rules and Order of Business Committee, where Ely referred to a similar case from 1994, where it stated the following: 

We understand that some parties have read the pertinent constitutional and statutory provisions to mean that a legislator’s work in the private sector creates an inherent conflict of interest with his legislative position and therefore his entity should be disqualified from contracting with the State. This viewpoint appears to rely on an unnecessarily narrow and wooden interpretation of the relevant laws. New Mexico, like many states, has a citizen legislature and most of its members earn a living through private sector employment. For the most part the lawmakers have real lives as farmers, teachers, bankers, business owners and lawyers…The fact that lawmakers have real lives as citizens in their communities is a tremendous asset to the legislative process.” [citation omitted] A wooden interpretation runs counter to this reality and prohibits a wide number of entities from bidding on state contracts and in turn prohibits a large number of legislators from working in the private sector. This could not possibly be the drafters’ intent of these laws when New Mexico is so dependent on private sector entities to provide required and valuable services for the citizenry. 

Another legislator, state Rep. Micaela Cadena (D-Doña Ana) had similar conflicts. As reported in 2019: 

​​Rep. Cadena, who is serving her first term in the New Mexico House, works as Research Director for Young Women United (YWU), an abortion-up-to-birth social justice advocacy group which actively lobbies in favor of late-term abortion rights. One particular bill, HB-51 is targeted by the group, which has partnered with Planned Parenthood and other abortion proponents to form Respect New Mexico Women.

On Respect New Mexico Women’s “about” page, a photograph of Rep. Cadena and pro-abortion supporters clearly show Cadena’s involvement with the organization, and her group is a listed sponsor. On Young Women United’s staff page, Cadena’s campaign site, and her Facebook page, she is listed as a current member of the YWU team.

Because of YWU’s political position to gain something from HB-51’s passage, there is a direct conflict of interest between Cadena and HB-51, if she does not recuse herself.

These blatant conflicts of interest are now normalized by this broken system of government, which is entitled, corrupt, and still whines about “not getting paid” or not getting paid “enough,” despite being able to work wherever the heck they want and being virtually untouchable in the eyes of the law. 

No legislator or any public official for that matter should be financially benefitting off of the bills, resolutions, ordinances, or laws they pass. Back in the old days, we used to call that “corruption.” 

The recent ruling by former Judge Starzynski on the Egolf case and the countless others prove time and time again that the system supposedly meant to work for the people only works for itself. We must change that with ETHICAL leaders in the New Mexico House of Representatives in 2022 and in both chambers in 2024 and beyond. 

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