New Mexico faces renewed calls for tighter lobbying rules, after report says lawmakers were served enchiladas and roast beef sandwiches 'sponsored by Comcast'
Comcastsponsored an October 5 lunchfor New Mexico lawmakers, AP reported, citing a meeting agenda.
- The Legislative Education Study
Committeeexamined internetvendor bids a day prior, AP reported.
- This is entirely legal, but AP spoke to a local nonprofit and a former legislator that criticized the practice.
A New Mexico nonprofit and a former legislator are calling for tighter lobbying rules after a report said state lawmakers were served lunch "sponsored by Comcast."
Democratic and Republican state lawmakers were served enchiladas, roast beef sandwiches, steak salads, and other entrees and sides "sponsored by Comcast," according to a legislative committee agenda cited by the AP.
Critics questioned whether free lunches could sway lawmakers to give companies favorable treatment. It's legal for companies to give free lunches and gifts in the state, as long as they're disclosed, The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government told AP. It's also a common occurrence. Other states, including the neighboring state of Colorado, ban gifts from lobbyists.
Comcast didn't immediately respond to Insider's request for comment. A Comcast spokeswoman told AP that Comcast didn't present any of its products at the lunch. She declined to comment to AP on what the company's intentions were by sponsoring the lunch, and declined to say how much it cost.
Repeated proposals for tightening disclosure laws in the legislature have failed to get to a vote, per AP, which spoke to a local nonprofit and a former legislator that criticized the practice of companies giving lunches to lawmakers.
"If the industry didn't want anything from the legislators, then why would they be providing them with lunches?" Kathleen Sabo, executive director of New Mexico Ethics Watch, a nonprofit, told AP.
She told AP that two years ago she came up with a proposal that would pay for lawmakers' food, but she's still looking for a legislator to sponsor it.
Former Republican representative Jim Dines told AP that he had refused to accept anything from a lobbyist, even a bottle of water. "The appearance of impropriety is always there when you accept something free, number one. Number two is only the legislator themselves know whether or not they're being influenced," he said.
He called for more vigorous disclosure rules, including requiring companies to specifically state who receives gifts, including lunches. "What the public doesn't see is how much does that all amount to over a period of a year from a dollar or value standpoint," Dines said.
Comcast's name was included in a presentation on Monday to the Legislative Education Study Committee that included sample estimated costs to provide internet to a school district in New Mexico. Comcast's estimated cost in the district was around $1.6 million, as written in the presentation.
Around two-dozen districts are preparing plans to provide internet to students, and in February lawmakers are scheduled to decide whether or not to give extra support to these districts, per AP.
Republican Sen. Gay Kernan said sponsored lunches don't "influence me one way or the other."
The education department, rather than legislators, awards internet contracts for schools, but lawmakers have considered legislation that impacts Comcast, per AP.
Kernan and others told AP they were happy to get free lunches because they are among the few lawmakers in the US who don't get a salary. Kernan said a daily stipend is not enough to pay for lunches.
Amplify Education, a curriculum and assessment company, was listed as paying for lawmakers' lunches on Monday, the AP reported, but Amplify denied that it had, and told AP there had been an "error" on the agenda.
"We showed up, and we were surprised to see that our name was on the agenda, to see that we were listed as a sponsor," Amplify spokeswoman Kay Moffett said. "It's not our typical practice to entertain legislators."
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