Wednesday, September 27, 2023
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Why Are We Enabling an Ethically Challenged Senator?

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What would you think if a sitting state senator was also a lobbyist? And that senator drafted legislation that would ensure he no longer had to register as a lobbyist? Or that his lobbying clients are county officials, so his fees are coming from public funds? How about that he has employed a convicted child sex offender since 2005? Or has been the subject of a sexual harassment investigation that found more than one of the numerous allegations to be substantiated?

 

Only in the New Mexico legislature.

 

Santa Fe attorney David Yohalem filed a complaint against State Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto (D-Bernalillo County) last week with the State Ethics Commission, alleging the senator violated the Financial Disclosure Act, the Lobbyist Regulation Act, and the Governmental Conduct Act. This week, he filed an addendum with allegations of violations of the State Procurement Code.

 

Yohalem’s accusations stem from Ivey-Soto’s position since 2008 as a sole-source vendor to numerous county clerks across the state as a consultant and lobbyist. Ivey-Soto has done this work with different companies he owns: a for-profit consulting firm, a non-profit consulting firm, and his law firm. Ivey-Soto was elected to the State Senate in 2012 representing a district in northeast Albuquerque.

 

Ivey-Soto’s conduct in office has been in the news recently, after several women came forward in 2022 with allegations of sexual harassment in the context of his legislative work. His alleged victims included lobbyists and fellow legislators who reported harassment, inappropriate behavior and touching, bullying and specific retaliation in the form of blocking legislative priorities of the alleged victims. A Senate investigation found probable cause that Ivey-Soto violated the legislature’s anti-harassment policy.

Of all the actions documented in Yohalem’s complaint, the allegations around the violations of the Governmental Conduct Act, easily verified in public record, stand out the most to me. First, while employing a convicted sex offender, Ivey-Soto has refused to support or killed more than a dozen anti-crime bills not supported by his employee’s non-profit which is dedicated to protecting the rights of sex offenders. To hell with education or the economy; sex offender rights - that’s definitely an issue I would want my senator to keep supporting if I were one of his constituents.

 

Then there is Ivey-Soto’s attempt to change state laws to his own benefit. In 2017, he introduced legislation that executive directors of non-profits, intergovernmental or trade associations would not have to register as lobbyists (his business role is the executive director of a trade association, which is now a non-profit). In 2022, he introduced legislation that would have removed oversight into spending by country clerks, his primary source of personal business revenue. His non-profit billed over $200K to county clerks in 2022; this doesn’t include additional billing from his law firm.

 

Finally, there are the many allegations of sexual harassment, which Yohalem reminds the Ethics Commission are also a violation of the Government Conduct Act. The Senate did not take overt public action after the probable cause finding; Ivey-Soto did resign as chairman of the Rules Committee. The national feminist organization UltraViolet, which has been instrumental in the #metoo movement and the exposure to the public of the decades of sexual predation on the part of Harvey Weinstein, has also now taken up the matter of Ivey-Soto’s harassment. (I find it interesting/disappointing that the Republican caucus never did.)

 

It's upsetting that many of these allegations go back a decade with no comment from anyone on either side of the aisle. I do wonder why Republicans, who want to be the “party of values” have been silent on all of these charges. One of the greatest liabilities to our state is the endemic corruption. New Mexicans are sick of it. Standing up to it would certainly be a novel way to attract voters’ attention.

Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and former Navy officer. She appears regularly as a panelist on NM PBS and is a frequent guest on News Radio KKOB. A Republican, she lives amicably with her Democratic husband north of I-40 where they run one head of dog, and two of cat. She can be reached at news.ind.merritt@gmail.com.

 

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