Ethics commission wants NM disclosure law enforced

The Rotunda in Santa Fe. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE — More than 20% of those required to file annual returns about their sources of income and assets — a group that includes government officials and applicants in New Mexico — have not done so, according to the Commission of state ethics.

The ethics agency on Friday authorized its staff to send demand letters to about 155 people who have not filed mandatory disclosures and to take legal action if necessary to enforce the law.

Jeremy Farris, executive director of the state Ethics Commission, said the compliance rate was even worse before the secretary of state’s office and ethics commission staff worked to let people know. who had not submitted a file.

At one point this year, he said, hundreds of the 650 people required to file disclosures had failed to do so. The figure has fallen to around 155 now – a rate Farris described as “unacceptable”, especially since individuals have been made aware of the problem.

“Financial disclosures are essential to public confidence in government,” he said in a statement to the Journal. “New Mexico law requires heads of state agencies and Senate-confirmed members of boards and commissions to file annual financial statements as a condition of holding office.”

The ethics commission, Farris said, “has authorized all necessary steps to ensure that government officials who are required to disclose do in fact do so.”

The vote was unanimous. The state Ethics Commission — an independent panel that includes members appointed by the governor and legislative leaders — needs bipartisan support to act.

Treasurer’s rules

Also Friday, the commission reached a settlement agreement with state treasurer Tim Eichenberg after he was accused in an ethics complaint of failing to disclose his role at a company that helps homeowners protest their tax assessments.

As part of the settlement, Eichenberg agreed to answer a series of questions from the commission’s general counsel and to amend his public disclosures, if necessary.

The commission then ordered the dismissal of the complaint.

The allegations centered on whether he fully disclosed his role with New Mexico Property Tax, an Albuquerque-based company.

Eichenberg, a Democrat in his eighth year as treasurer, lists in his annual financial statement that he is a director of ‘NMPT’, a consulting firm – one of three business interests of $10,000 or more that he disclosed.

The ethics complaint, filed by a Bernalillo resident, said the disclosure is misleading.

Eichenberg, in a written response to questions from the commission, said he was not an employee of the property tax business but received a share of net profits, if any.

He also said that neither he nor the company have represented clients before the office of the state treasurer or certain state boards of which he is a member.

Helen Bennett, Eichenberg’s attorney, said the treasurer had done nothing wrong and was happy to further disclose his role at the company and answer questions. He won’t have to change his financial disclosure statements, she said, because he’s not an employee of the tax firm.

Proposed changes

The ethics agency has been pushing for some time to strengthen New Mexico’s disclosure law. He proposed an updated version of the law, which could be taken up by lawmakers next year.

As it stands, hundreds of lawmakers, candidates, appointees and others are required to file annual returns covering their employers, sources of income, real estate and similar information – a measure of transparency intended to put highlight potential conflicts of interest.

Sources of income over $5,000 must be declared.

But critics describe the requirements as vague and rarely enforced. Many legislators, for example, report their income vaguely, claiming that they derive income from a law firm, consulting, agriculture, or similar categories.

Transparency for lawmakers is especially important, analysts say, because New Mexico has a “citizen legislature” — meaning lawmakers don’t receive legislative salaries and typically work day jobs in other fields.

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