Should New Mexico establish an independent ethics commission to oversee its governmental officials? Multiple legislative efforts to establish an ethics commission in New Mexico have been attempted in recent years, but all failed. To understand the reasons for the recurring efforts – as well as the objections – New Mexico First conducted a series of focus groups about the pros and cons of ethics legislation to answer this question. Meetings were held with current and former public officials, as well as members of the media.
The focus group findings revealed a broad range of perspectives, but most participants believed that New Mexico needs an ethics commission. Respondents offered a variety of reasons including public trust, fragmented existing systems, preventing honest mistakes, limitations of existing legal structures, and policymakers being asked to police themselves.
Focus group participants also discussed how an ethics commission should be established. They discussed potential jurisdiction structures, the size of commissions, appointment structure, qualifications of a commissioner, subpoena powers, confidentiality issues, and how to handle whistleblowers. The media focus group revealed additional perspectives.
However, focus group participants also voiced concerns about creating an ethics commission at this time. People agreed the state’s current financial shortfall presents a major barrier to paying for any new government function. Several participants indicated they would rather wait than launch a new commission without the resources to make it successful. Some participants worried that partisanship would render a commission ineffective. Others believed that the existing system, while disjointed, is working.
This research project, funded by the Thornburg Foundation, includes two reports:
- A comprehensive backgrounder on the pros, cons, and known policy options regarding ethics commissions
- The summarized findings of the five focus groups
New Mexico First hopes that these reports will prove useful to the policymaking community.
New Mexico First is a nonpartisan public policy organization that advances independent research and public engagement on education, the economy, healthcare, natural resources and good government.