SANTA FE, N.M. — Lobbyists and their clients spent at least $200,000 during New Mexico's just ended legislative session hosting pricey dinners, receptions and providing lawmakers with free golf and skiing.
The biggest expenditure was by the New Mexico Golf Tourism Alliance, which provided passes to legislators, the governor and lieutenant governor for free golf at five courses in the state. The passes were valued at $28,500.
"They're done just to promote with legislators the impact that golf has," said Domonic Silva, a lobbyist for the group. "You can look at it as a give-away but it's really more of just a promotion."
Among the courses that can be played with the passes is Paa-Ko Ridge Golf Club, which is near Albuquerque and has been highly rated by national golf publications.
Silva said the alliance didn't push for any specific golf industry legislation during the session but supported efforts to increase the Tourism Department's budget to market New Mexico as a visitor destination.
The governor doesn't play golf. A spokesman for Martinez, Enrique Knell, said staff in the governor's office doesn't recall seeing the pass, which aren't transferrable for use by another person.
"These types of things go unused, and that's most likely what happened in this case," said Knell.
The golf passes are modeled after a gift the state's ski industry trade association, Ski New Mexico, has provided legislators for years.
The ski group handed out passes valued at $27,750 for two free days of skiing at ski areas in New Mexico.
Executive Director George Brooks said the passes went to all lawmakers but one. Democratic Rep. Bill McCamley of Mesilla Park declined the gift.
"In my view, If I take gifts from anyone, especially lobbyists, then I think that can be really seen as accepting favors who want specific things from representatives. So I don't do that," McCamley said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
Brooks said the group no longer provides a ski pass to the governor, which historically was done, because Martinez indicated she wouldn't accept it.
He said the ski industry, much like the golf group, supported a budget increase for the Tourism Department and didn't advocate legislation this session specifically for ski areas. He said the industry employed about 2,500 people and provided a $400 million direct and indirect economic benefit for the state.
"It's always good to have at least people that know about your industry and are friendly toward your industry. We really feel that's what we do when we go up and give the passes to the legislators," said Brooks.
The passes were disclosed in reports filed by lobbyists with the secretary of state's office showing nearly $202,000 in expenditures — only for events and gifts costing $500 or more — during the session that ended last week.
Total spending by lobbyists won't be known until later this year when they disclose expenditures of less than $500 as well as activities, such as political contributions, after the session through late April.
Among the other largest expenditures during the session:
— $15,751 by a lobbyist for the New Mexico Mining Association for a dinner and reception. All legislators, the governor and lieutenant governor were invited.
— $12,018 for a dinner for lawmakers by lobbyists for the New Mexico Broadcasters Association, Excel Energy, a utility serving part of the state, and CenturyLink, a telecommunications company.
— $11,217 by the University of New Mexico for a reception. Among those invited were lawmakers, the governor, cabinet secretaries and a wide range of university and alumni association officials.
— $10,232 by a lobbyist for cable television company Comcast for a dinner for House and Senate members.
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