Thursday, March 08, 2007

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: TELEPHONE BANKING

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
March 8, 2007


Thumbing through lobbyist reports at the Secretary of State’s Office, you don’t find only records of lavish parties for lawmakers and expensive dinners for legislative committees.

Another expense popping up lately involves what’s known as telephone banking.

Last week, I reported on a Texas lobbyist for Philip Morris who spent $4,000-plus to have a Virginia company call New Mexico smokers and urge them to tell their legislators to vote against House Bill 965, which would raise cigarette taxes.

It’s not just big industries spending money on phone banks, however. It’s citizens groups, too.

According to recent lobbyist reports required to be filed within 48 hours of the expenditure, Matt Brix, executive director of and registered lobbyist for New Mexico Common Cause reported spending $2,607 on phone banking late last month.

The calls were made to constituents in strategically selected legislative districts, Brix said Wednesday.

If the person called agrees to urge his legislator to vote for ethics-reform bills, he is immediately patched through to the legislator’s phone.

In addition to using a professional phone banker, Brix said, Common Cause is using volunteers to make calls.

Another group is helping Common Cause in this effort. The Albuquerque-based state chapter of the League of Young Voters reported spending $4,565, about half of which was for phone banking on behalf of the ethics legislation,such as a bill that would restrict gifts to public officials.

The other half went for a radio ad targeting House Bill 685, sponsored by Rep. Dan Silva, D-Albuquerque.

This measure would require state agencies to disclose the names of whistle-blowers who report alleged violations and limit a state agency’s rule-making ability to only those areas which the Legislature has already put into law. A fiscal-impact report by the Legislative Finance Committee says this could greatly reduce an agency’s ability to act, League of Young Voters co-director Keegan King said Wednesday.

The bill got a unanimous do-pass from the House Business and Industry Committee and currently is in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.

The jury is still out on whether legislators are influenced more by expensive parties and fancy dinners or by phone calls generated by phone banks.

Wanted: Songwriting Cowboys: Rep. Gloria Vaughn, R-Alamogordo, is learning that getting an “official state cowboy song” through the Legislature is nearly as hard as passing ethics-reform bills. For a couple of years now, she has tried unsuccessfully to get a song called “New Mexico” by Calvin Boles and R.D. Blankenship designated the official cowboy song. (CLICK HERE, then scroll down to the singing cowboy for more info on this song.)

It’s not that the Legislature is unfriendly to cowpokes. On Wednesday, the House unanimously passed House Memorial 81, sponsored by Rep. Anna Crook, D-Clovis, which declares March 15 as Cowboy Day in the House.

Vaughn’s cowboy-song bill stalled this year, according to state folklorist Claude Stephenson, because nobody can find Blankenship’s heirs. For a song to be declared an official state song, the writers or their heirs must transfer the rights to that song to the state, Stephenson said.

But Vaughn isn’t giving up. She introduced House Memorial 70, which calls for a state competition to write an official state cowboy song.

The measure still is in committee. Stephenson said if the House passes it, the state Music Commission — of which he’s a member — would set up a committee to judge the competition.

“The winner forfeits his copyright but will gain notoriety and will be enshrined forever in the state Blue Book,” Stephenson said.

Bye, centennial?: But will they sing the state cowboy song at the New Mexico Centennial celebration, which is coming up Jan. 6, 2012?

Not if the state doesn’t start planning its 100th birthday, the state folklorist said.

“We’re going to have a party in 2012, like it or not,” Stephenson said. “It’s coming up in less than five years. Do we want to plan for a good celebration or not?”

The state government of Arizona, which also became a state in 1912, has been working on its centennial for two years — with a $2.5 million budget, Stephenson said.

Rep. Rhonda King, D-Santa Fe, introduced HB 511, which would set up a 13-member Centennial Commission with a $250,000 appropriation. But the proposal apparently didn’t make the state budget.

Sounds like a pot-luck dinner and no-host bar for New Mexico in 2012.

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