Thursday, February 19, 2009

Roundhouse Roundup: Lobbying -- The Broadcast Front

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
February 19, 2009

Organizations and businesses that are running issues ads during the current session of the Legislature have until 15 days after the session is over to file expense reports for the ads, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office said Wednesday.

So far there have been two groups — a huge developer from California and a three-person PAC from Las Cruces — running ads asking viewers to contact their lawmakers to vote for or against bills.

There’s SunCal, which has run two TV spots touting the concept of Tax Increment Development Districts and which, according to a spokeswoman, has a third ad that will start on television stations today.

Then there’s the political action committee called Hispanos Unidos, which is running ads against same-day voter registration and in favor of requiring voters to produce identification before voting.

An Albuquerque woman last week filed a formal complaint with the Secretary of State’s Office against SunCal, which is pushing two bills in the Legislature — Senate Bill 249 and House Bill 470 — to help finance the initial stage of what eventually would be a 55,000-acre residential, commercial and industrial project. The complaint by Lora Lucero said SunCal had failed to file expense reports within 48 hours of the expense.

Common Cause New Mexico hasn’t filed a formal complaint, but the group’s executive director, Steve Allen, complained informally this week about Hispanos Unidos’ television ads, claiming the group was in violation of state law governing lobbyists.

As often is the case with New Mexico laws, there is some confusion in the area of lobbyist reports. There’s another law that requires lobbyists to report expenditures with 48 hours. This routinely is done with expenses like parties, receptions and dinners for committees. Indeed, some groups do file advertising, polling and mailing expenses with the 48-hour reports.

Secretary of State spokesman James Flores pointed to the law governing lobbyist reports that says any group that spends more than $2,500 “to conduct an advertising campaign for the purpose of lobbying” must register with the Secretary of State within 48 hours of the expenditure.

But the law says such groups have until April 4 to file expense reports, Flores pointed out.
SunCal spokeswoman Catherine Wambach said Westland Development Company, which is affiliated with SunCal, filed its advertising campaign registration with the state Wednesday and will be filing the expense report in accordance with the law.

Hispanos Unidos leader Victor Contreras told me this week that he intends to file his expense report in May, the next time PAC reports are due.

TIDD wars: Another entry into this year’s issues-ad competition is Southwest Organizing Project, an Albuquerque group that is starting a radio campaign saying TIDDs are as bad as SunCal says they’re good.

SWOP is among the groups that report expenditures on 48-hour reports. Spokeswoman Jo Ann Gutierrez Bejar said Wednesday that SWOP spent $7,130 on the spots.

(TIDDs, for the uninitiated, are a public financing process in which the current tax base is measured in the district in question. The developer gets a percentage of the increase in taxes over that current tax base in the future. The idea is that the project and infrastructure built for the project will spark growth in the area. SunCal and other advocates of TIDDs say the method is a good way to create desirable developments and jobs. But opponents say TIDDs lead to urban sprawl, take existing businesses out of their current locations and adversely affect tax revenues.)

SWOP’s new 30-second spot features people supposedly at the Legislature talking to a fictitious and unnamed developer.

“I’m a developer, and we’re going to get the Legislature to pass our TIDD bill — that stands for Tax Increment Development Districts, which is just a fancy way of saying we’re taking your tax dollars to fund my development,” the bad guy says.

When the others argue, saying, “We need money for schools and cops, not your development. We can’t afford your TIDD, not this year, not ever!”, the developer responds, “Well, my TIDD is going to pass, regardless of what you think! We have the votes lined up already.”

The ad encourages listeners to contact their legislators “and ask them to support TIDD reform.”

I don’t know what the new SunCal ad will say. The two that are posted on the company’s “TIDD Facts” Web site include a spot with Association of Commerce and Industry president Beverly McClure saying TIDDs bring economic growth and one featuring a man surrounded by his wife and children saying TIDDs keep families together.

The “ungift” that keeps on giving: The radio ad isn’t the first public-relations expenditure reported by SWOP. Earlier this month, the group reported spending $9,160 for printing and mailing a magazine.

But Bejar objected to me lumping in that expenditure in an article last week headlined “Legislators showered with $128,747 in gifts.”

“... Our magazine is hardly a gift to legislators," she said in an email. "In fact, they might consider it an ‘ungift’ and not like it at all. It’s our bi-annual magazine that we send to our constituents, and in this particular issue we urge them to contact their legislators and make sure they vote the right way on specific issues important to us.”

UPDATE: Between the time I filed this column and I posted it here, SunCal has its latest ad up on its Web site. It features Ray Baca, director of The New Mexico Building and Construction Trades Council, saying that TIDDs create jobs.