Crony Capitalism, Corruption and the Economy in the State of New Mexico
The Committee for Economic Development (CED)—a Washington, DC-based non- profit, nonpartisan business-led public policy organization—recently released a study outlining their concerns about the rise of crony capitalism in American politics. The term refers to the unhealthy relationship between some private interests (e.g. business, anti-business interests, professions, and social groups) and government. Deals are struck that reward winners on the basis of political influence rather than merit. Like Olson (1982), Coates and Heckelman (2003a, 2003b) and others (e.g. Knack and Keefer 1997), the CED argues that such deals inhibit the productive reallocation of society’s resources and reduce innovation and economic growth. Examples of such deals include cash subsidies, tax preferences, earmarked appropriations, no-bid contracts, and regulatory and trade protection. They can be crafted to benefit virtually any sector of the economy, and though each alleged deal has its defenders—else it would not exist—the list of questionable private sector-government interactions is long. The goal of the CED report is to raise awareness nationally of the concern surrounding this trend in an effort towards rebuilding Americans’ confidence in a more sustainable system of capitalism.
The purpose of our report, Crony Capitalism, Corruption and the Economy in the State of New Mexico, is to examine crony capitalism in the state of New Mexico. Our focus is on the relationship between business and government, primarily because the private sector is integral to a state’s economic growth. Furthermore, New Mexico is an interesting case to examine crony capitalism due to the state economy’s heavy reliance on public funding. Indeed, New Mexico’s economy is more dependent on the federalgovernment than any other state in the nation. Because so much of the state’s economy is dependent on public funds, the potential for crony capitalistic behavior is high. Sadly, New Mexico continues to score near the bottom of reputable watchdog and political reporter state corruption indexes, and has been rocked by a number of high profile corruption cases in recent years. The most recent—occurring only months before the release of this report—involves former Secretary of State Dianna Duran, who resigned from office and accepted a plea deal related to charges of fraud, embezzlement, money laundering, and other crimes related to allegedly converting thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to her personal use in 2013 and 2014.
Using the CED’s national study as a guide, the purpose of this project will be threefold: (1) to examine the conditions that create the potential for crony capitalism in New Mexico; (2) to conduct brief studies of cases where crony capitalistic behavior seemed to be present; and (3) to suggest policy reforms to lessen the potential for crony capitalism. We argue, first, that crony capitalism in the state of New Mexico is defined mostly by rent extraction rather than rent seeking. The long history of political corruption in the state, coupled with its refusal to enact rule changes that discourage corrupt behavior, has created incentive structures that all but force the business community to engage in crony capitalistic behavior.
Second, we argue that crony capitalism is not a binary condition; rather, it exists along a continuum. Some private-public sector relationships, like some tax subsidies, are legitimate policy choices that can, under the right conditions, successfully grow the economy. Others, like predatory lending practices, clearly benefit only a small section of society while spreading significant economic costs to the general public. Still others, like pay-to-play scandals, are illegal and corrupt, and have tremendous short and long- term economic costs on the state.
To combat crony capitalism, we recommend three actions:
Require Greater Disclosure. A prerequisite for holding public officials accountable is providing full and free access to relevant information. In the case of crony capitalism, this means full disclosure of campaign contributions and lobbying activity. Disclosure empowers public oversight and accountability in the government decision-making process. The state should (a) require donors to disclose their employers; (b) require lobbyists to disclose the bills and issues on behalf of which they lobby; (c) amend the Campaign Reporting Act of New Mexico to compel public disclosure of all possible information about the campaign spending of political action committees (PACs) and other non-candidate campaign participants without crossing the constitutional boundaries established by the court; and (d) improve online access to campaign finance and lobbying information.
Establish an Ethics Commission. Ethics commissions have long been believed to be an important tool in curbing abuses in government (see Smith 2003). Currently, New Mexico is one of only eight states that does not have an ethics commission. We believe establishing such a commission would have a positive effect on confidence in the New Mexican political system.
Conduct Regular and Rigorous Evaluations of Tax Subsidy Programs. New Mexico issued 860 subsidies between 2011 and 2013 for a total of $262,699,040. New Mexico should follow the lead of other states such as Alaska, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, and Maryland and charge an appropriate committee or agency with conducting a regular and rigorous evaluation of all existing programs. The programs need to be studied often enough to provide policymakers with up-to-date information, while allowed the time to produce thorough, detailed studies.
Finally, and most important, is our belief that high public corruption and cronyism is a key reason for New Mexico’s lackluster economic growth (ranked by Business Insider as 49 out of 50).1 This belief is grounded in the well-established evidence from international- and state-level research discussed below. The lesson is clear: if New Mexico is to ever recapture the economic vitality it experienced as a key terminal along the Santa Fe Trail, Camino Real and, later, Route 66, it must root out cronyism and corruption in its state government.