Friday, January 30, 2009

POLLS DOWN FOR RICHARDSON

Gov. Bill Richardson, whose poll numbers in the past two years rarely dipped below 60 percent, has sunk to a 47 percent approval level, according to the latest SurveyUSA poll.
BILL RICHARDSON AT HIS POOL PARTY, Denver August 2008

50 percent disapprove, the poll says.

It's possible, however, that Richardson is counting his blessings. Despite nearly a month of bad publicity about various pay-to-play allegations and other controversies, he's still just below the 50 percent mark.

However in the Dec. 22 SurveyUSA poll, taken after Richardson was tapped by Barack Obama to be his Commerce secretary, Richardson's approval rate was 61 percent. (See the tracking graph HERE.)

And in May 2007, a couple of weeks before his disastrous Meet the Press interview, Richardson was soaring with a 74 percent approval rating.

Richardson, naturally scores highest with Hispanics and Democrats.

But some numbers have to worry him. A full 70 percent of voters who identify themselves as "independent" say they disapprove of his performance.

And 33 percents of Democrats -- that's right, Democrats, disapprove.

UPDATE: Forgot to include these basics -- the automated phone poll surveyed 600 adults in New Mexico (as opposed to registered or "likely" voters) on Jan. 20 and 21. It is sponsored by KOB TV.

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Speaking of scandals, it looks like a couple of recent ones are converging. Read Kate Nash's story about the lawyer in the Vanderbilt case subpoenaing the records of the Moving America Forward Foundation.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

DEATH PENALTY REPEAL CLEARS FIRST COMMITTEE

The House Consumer & Public Affairs Committee minutes ago voted 5-2 to give a do-pass recommendation to HB285, which would abolish the death penalty.

It was a straight party vote with Dems voting yes and Republicans voting no.

No big surprise. This committee always clears this bill. In fact in recent tries, the entire House of Representatives votes for it. It's Senate Judiciary that normally stomps on it.

But bill sponsor Gail Chasey, D-Albquerque, told me after the vote that she's confident the bill will make it through Senate Judiciary.

Watch for my story in The New Mexican Friday.

HOUSE GOES BOLO

By a vote of 59-3, the House approved Rep. James Roger Madalena's HR 1, which allows the wearing of bolo ties on the floor of the House. (Madalena is a Democrat from Jemez Pueblo.)

The funniest line during the funny "debate" was when Rep. Don Tripp, R-Socorro -- who carried legislation a few years ago to make the bolo the official state necktie -- said he has a nice collection of bolos, then offered to sell bolos to members.

Who does he think he is, Eric Serna?

UPDATE: Some members referred to Regis (Philbin, not Pecos) and Kelly talking about the bolo resolution. Here's that video clip:



ANOTHER UPDATE: The three who voted against the bolo tie resolution were Reps. Joni Gutierrez, D-Las Cruces; Benjamin Rodefer, D-Corrales; and Rep. Dennis Kintigh, R-Roswell. Interesting that two out of the three (Rodefer and Kintigh) are freshmen.

WAKE UP CALL

I've been assured this does not violate the gift act. Photo by Kate Nash

Check out Kate Nash's blog about the gift the state GOP left for Rep. Ray Begaye.

IT'S BAAAACK

Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones is webcasting the House Voters & Elections Committee.

CLICK HERE

PLUTO IN RETROGRADE

Once again, New Mexico has been poked fun at on a late-night comedy show. This time, however it had nothing to do with any of our scandals. Or cockfighting.
Neil deGrasse Tyson
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, author of a new book called The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet got lots of laughs on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart talking about how New Mexico passed legislation that keeps the designation of planet for Pluto in New Mexico -- even though scientists such as Tyson insist it's not really a full-fledged planet.

He apparently was referring to a 2007 joint resolution introduced by Rep. Joni Marie Gutierrez, D-Las Cruces in 2007. (HJR54 to be exact.)

Our connection to Pluto? Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of the former planet, lived in Dona Ana County -- though deGrasse Tyson pointed out, he actually discovered Pluto while working in Arizona.

deGrasse Tyson knows his astrophysics but he's a little fuzzy on the New Mexico Legislature.

HJR54 did pass the House -- 70-to-0 to be exact. However, Gutierrez's measure apparently died in the Senate -- which apparently has something against Pluto.

UPDATE
: Here's video of the deGrasse Tyson interview:


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO STAY OUT OF THE 21st CENTURY

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
January 29, 2009



“You are now entering the New Mexico state Legislature. You have the right to remain silent — even though that’s probably not why your constituents elected you. Anything you say or do on the floor of the House or Senate and in committee meetings can be held against you — and probably will be if you do or say anything idiotic. You have the right to claim that your stupid act or statement was ‘taken out of context’ even if the public has the right not to believe your sniveling.”
Get your nose out of your business
If webcasting is going to be allowed in the Roundhouse, I believe our lawmakers deserve to be read their rights, something like the statement above, immediately before the sessions begins.

Quick recap: The Senate voted last year to start webcasting its floor sessions and actually use some of the $75,000 appropriated for that project a few years back. The state spent some $30,000 on webcams and installed them in the Senate chambers. However, late last year, the Senate Committee on Committees voted to scuttle the project, and the cameras were taken down before the session started. The full Senate voted 30-10 this week for the committee to reconsider.
Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, photo by Kate Nash
Meanwhile, state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, R-Albuquerque — on her own and with her own equipment — started webcasting her committee hearings, evoking the ire of Rep. Ed Sandoval, D-Albuquerque , who chairs the House Taxation and Revenue Committee, which appeared live on the Web on Monday afternoon.

Legislative leaders are dealing with the webcast uprising in traditional ways. The Senate is waiting on a report from the Legislative Council Service about cost and how other state legislatures have been affected by webcasting (only 45 other states do it). The House has referred the matter to a subcommittee.

The upshot: Don’t hold your breath.
Ray Begaye: Wide Awake

Sleep disorder: Indeed, it would appear that the biggest apprehension some lawmakers have about Web cameras following the session is the fear of being caught doing something dumb.

Rep. Ray Begaye, D-Shiprock, said at a House committee meeting this week, “They could use it if I’m sleeping and I’m being recorded. It could be used as a political gain (by) my opponent.”

This might just be the Quote of the Year for this Legislature.

Begaye went on, talking about televised meetings of the Albuquerque City Council: “They catch people almost slurping their coffee or whatever.”

Personally, I’d rather be caught on camera slurping coffee than snoozing.

In fairness, Begaye says he favors webcasting in the Roundhouse.

There’s nothing in state campaign-finance laws that would prevent Begaye or any other sleeping beauty in the Legislature from using campaign contributions to purchase a big supply of No-Doze for legislative sessions.

But it’s not just drowsiness that’s the issue with some legislative Web camera opponents. At a Senate Committee on Committees meeting this week, Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa — who has voted in favor of the webcams — noted senators sometimes get “exhausted” after lengthy floor sessions and “say the wrong thing.”

If there’s webcasting and that happens, Cisneros said, “You’re on YouTube and there’s nothing you can do.”

Yes, the good old YouTube factor. Legislators would have to learn to refrain from referring to their political opponents as “Macaca.”

And something nobody’s thought of yet: Illegal music downloaders with unauthorized copies of “The Potato Song” as performed by Sen. John Pinto, D-Tohatchi. Someone instruct the Legislative Council Service to contact the Recording Industry Association of America for help in preparing the lawsuits.

Actually, according to the senator who started the webcast push, Sen. Mark Boitano, R-Albuquerque, capturing footage from streaming webcasts won’t be possible. There’s no plans to archive video of the sessions, he said.

Boitano told me Monday that being aware that people out there in Constituent Land are watching would be good for the Legislature. It would encourage lawmakers not to “shoot from the hip” and to choose their words carefully, he said.

Boitano also joked that legislators who have been using their “high school pictures” on campaign literature would have to update them if webcasting becomes a reality.

A circus of secrecy: But is it possible that the resistance to webcasting represents some deeper fear than having late-night gaffes or afternoon naps turned into attack ads?

Maybe, just maybe, some leaders don’t want to shine more light into the Roundhouse. I’ve often said that considering the difficulty with parking in the Capitol area, the tiny committee rooms and the unreliable schedules, it sometimes seems that the Legislature just wants to be left alone.

Indeed, there have been several stories lately about secrecy in state government.


There’s Gov. Bill Richardson’s $1.7 million Moving America Forward Foundation, which refuses to release the names of contributors and expenditures.

There’s Attorney General Gary King’s unexpected opposition to opening conference committees. (Nobody’s even asked yet to webcast conference committees.)

And of course, there’s New Mexico’s campaign-finance reporting requirements, which, unlike many other states and the federal government, don’t even require candidates to list their contributors’ employers.

Webcasting, of course, isn’t the ultimate solution for secrecy in government. But the resistance to it seems like a symptom.

PUBLIC AFFAIRS GIVES DOMESTIC PARTNERS A DO-PASS

You can read my story HERE.

The vote on SB12 was 5-4.

Voting in favor were Sens. Dede Feldman, Mary Jane Garcia, Cynthia Nava, Eric Griego and Tim Eichenberg. All are Democrats.

Opposed were Republican Sens. Mark Boitano, Vern Asbill, Gaye Kernan plus Democrat George Munoz.

The Judiciary Committee also attended the meeting and asked questions. They are expected to vote on the bill on Friday.

The funniest quote had to be the Rev. Talitha Arnold of the United Church of Santa Fe, who has been a pastor for 28 years and has counseled many couples with marital problems.

"Money tops the list, followed by jobs, communication, children, health and who cleans the bathroom, Not once in 28 years have I heard any married couple say their marriage was in trouble because of the old gay couple living down the street."

SENATE GALLERY FILLED TO CAPACITY

And it looks like a big show of force by those opposing domestic partnerships.

You can tell from the little yellow tags many of the people are wearing that say "Vote No on Domestic Partnerships."

I'm not kidding about capacity. A Senate sergeant-at-arms told me they're not letting anyone else in.

You can hear an audio feed on the KUNM site when the joint hearing starts. (2:30 p.m. still is the plan.)

UPDATE 1:53 pm: Looks like supporters of domestic parterships are wearing yellow stickers too. There's plenty of them also.

Also, the Roundhouse PA system has been announcing the meeting is at 2 p.m. instead of 2:30. Still, the way things work around here ...

DOMESTIC PARTNERSHIPS DEBATED TODAY IN SENATE

Big day today in the Senate. Not one, but two Senate committees, Public Affairs and Judiciary, will hear not one, but bills dealing with domestic partnerships.

There's the Domestic Partner Rights & Responsibilities Act (SB 12), sponsored by Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque. This would establish domestic partnerships, giving those who enter into such an arrangement the same rights and responsibilities as married couples. This is the bill embraced by gay-rights activists.

Also set for hearing is the Contractual Common Households ACT, (SB 144) which sponsor Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, says would ensure rights without leading to same-sex marriage in New Mexico.

Sharer says his bill wouldn't require an intimate relationship to join into a household contract. Sharer, who claims McSorley's bill would lead the the courts to legalize same-sex marriage, says SB 144 would put the state in a better position to avoid such a a legal battle. Sharer bases his argument on the situation in California, where the Supreme Court ruled banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

Advocates of McSorley's bill however, argue that SB 12 has nothing to do with marriage.

The meeting is scheduled after today's Senate floor session (but I'm betting on later, just knowing how things go around the Roundhouse during a session.)

Besides the good news of two committees meeting at once -- a time saver for everyone involved -- even better news is that it's going to be held in the Senate Chambers, so, unlike those broom closets they call committee rooms, there should be plenty of room for the public.

Praise be to the wisdom of these committees! Combining committee hearings and using the Senate or House Chambers for controversial bills that attract big crowds should be encouraged.

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Also, here's my story about Tuesday's State Investment Council meeting at which state Land Commissioner Pat Lyons and state Investment Officer Gary Bland discussed the Vanderbilt pay=to=play lawsuit. Lyons' main point was that the SIC itself never actually voted on the controversial investments that lost the state about $50 million. (That's the case for most investments handled by the office.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

eMAIL FROM THE CHAIRMAN

State Democratic Chairman Brian Colon, who was a director of Gov. Bill Richardson's secretive Moving America Forward Foundation, didn't return my phone calls when I was writing a story about that last week. Other reporters have said the same thing.
CHAIRMAN COLON
So I was excited when I got an email from Colon a few minutes ago.

Alas, it wasn't about MAFF.

Dear Fellow Democrat,
I wanted to drop you a quick note to let you know that we have sold more than 900 tickets and have less than 100 available for our Annual Legislative Dinner.

Click here to reserve tickets before we sell out.

Elected officials and supporters will come together to celebrate our success in creating a Blue State in '08 this Thursday January 29 at 7:00pm.

Click here to reserve tickets to the Legislative Diner today!

Tickets for the Legislative Dinner are just $200 and you can purchase your tickets right now online by clicking on the button below. Act
now to ensure that we reserve a seat for you at this exciting event.

(and no, I'm not really a fellow Democrat. I'm a proud declined-to-state. I get the same kind of email from the Republicans.)

MORE ON THE ROUNDHOUSE WEBCASTS

Our story in today's New Mexican about the webcasting developments can be found HERE. This little issue seems to have caught the old guard at the Roundhouse by surprise. As I noted in the previous post, the fear of YouTube might be driving some of the resistance to the idea -- paranoia about being immortalized in video for saying or doing something stupid in a floor debate. Sen. Mark Boitano told me Monday that the YouTube factor might be good for everyone, encouraging lawmakers not to shoot from the hip and to choose their words carefully.

Some webcast advocates in the House have expressed the fear that House Speaker Ben Lujan might draw the line, as early as today, and ban the webcams from any House proceedings. As you'll see in our news story, Lujan told Kate Nash Monday he was undecided on the issue. He told me the same thing last week.

But such a decision would feed the fires of suspicion about secrecy in state government. Seems like there's been a whole spate of secrecy stories lately. There's Gov. Bill Richardson's $1.7 million Moving America Forward Foundation, which refuses to release the names of contributors and whose director has refused to return reporters' phone calls, (including mine.) Then there's Attorney General Gary King's unexpected opposition to opening conference committees.

At a time in which our politicians love to talk about transparency, there sure seem to be a lot of doors they like to close at the Capitol.

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Just a reminder: KUNM is supposed to start its Senate audio stream today. CLICK HERE

Monday, January 26, 2009

SENATE VOTES 30-10 TO RECONSIDER WEBCASTS

The Senate, just a few minutes ago voted 3-to-1 to have the Committee on Committees reconsider its vote last month to not go ahead with Webcasting and to take down the expensive Web cameras that had been purchased and installed in the Senate Chambers.

However it doesn't look as if there will be any Senate Webcasts soon. The Committee on Committees discussed it and had a number of questions concerning pricing, etc. for the Legislative Council Service.

Sen. Carlos Cisneros also asked the LCS to check with other states on the effects that Web cameras had on their Legislatures. (Remember, we're one only five states that does not have some type of webcasting and two of those broadcast floor sessions and some committee meetings on television.

Cisneros hit on what seems to be the real fear of Webcasting. He noted senators sometimes get tired and "say the wrong thing."

Said Cisneros, "Once that's done, you're on Youtube and there's nothing you can do."

UPDATE: The meeting hasn't actually started yet, but Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones' webcast of the House Tax and Rev Committee is up and running. At this writing you can see and hear pre-meeting chatter.

FIRST HEARING FOR DOMESTIC PARTNERSHIPS

It looks like the first hearing for Senate Bill 12, the Domestic Partner Rights & Responsibilities Act will take place Wednesday at a proposed joint hearing of the Senate Public Affairs and Judiciary Committees.

The meeting tentative is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon after the Senate floor session. Estimated time is about 2:30, but veteran Legislature watchers know you can't depend on scheduled times for committee meetings.

I BROKE DOWN

and joined Twitter.

Follow me.

And don't forget The New Mexican's Twitter

Saturday, January 24, 2009

REPORT FROM SANTA FE

Former Governor-in-waiting and still Lt. Gov. Diane Denish will be the guest this week on Lorene Mill's Report from Santa Fe.

Here's a schedule for the show :


* Sunday 6:00 a.m. for Albuquerque and Santa Fe and all of Northern New Mexico, on Channel 5, KNME-TV, the PBS station in Albuquerque.

* Sunday 11:00 a.m. for Las Cruces and the Southern part of the State, on KRWG-TV, the PBS station in Las Cruces.

*Saturday 6:00 p.m. for the entire East side of the state, on Channel 3, KENW-TV, the PBS station in Portales.

* Listeners in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and other locales can hear the Denish interview on the radio 9:30 a.m. on Monday, January 26 on KANW-FM, 89.1 FM.

UPDATE: Date on the KANW broadcast has been corrected.

INSIGHT NEW MEXICO

One of the good guests cancelled on today's Insight New Mexico on AM 1350 talk radio in Albuquerque, so I'll be yacking about the Legislature sometime after 1:45 p.m. today. The plan is for me to go on after Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa.

The actual show starts at 1 p.m. and the call in number is (505) 338-4090. The show is hosted by Sophie Martin and Matt Reichbach of NM FBIHop. Podcasts of the show will be available 1350's Web site.

****
Speaking of "insight," I did a little story on the first two "24-hour" lobbyist reports that had been filed by Friday afternoon. You can find that HERE.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A QUIET FRIDAY MORNING

Looks like the Webcast riot is growing. See today's story in The New Mexican HERE. Besides Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones' plans to Webcast her committee meetings, KUNM on Tuesday will start an audio feed of the Senate floor sessions on its Website.

The audio Webcast is kinda what Sen. Mark Boitano and the 26 other senators who voted for Webcasting had in mind -- except without moving picture. Hardcore cynics out there listening to the audio on the KUNM site might assume that whoever is speaking is winking and making sarcastic gestures or funny faces. That usually won't be the case.

As noted in the article, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, who isn't a Webcasting fan, says he has no problem with KUNM's project. But I'm not so sure how House Speaker Ben Lujan feels about Rep. Arnold-Jones' plan. He told me yesterday he'll have to find out more about it before offering an opinion.

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If you're interested in following the proposed ethics bills. Common Cause New Mexico's Web site has links to the seven bills they're pushing for in a handy list right up front. It's worth bookmarking.

Speaking of ethics reforms, several readers have pointed out to me the recent Wall Street Journal story with the wonderful headline "New Mexico's Political Wild West." It details the state's lack of serious ethics laws. Just like cockfighting did for New Mexico until a couple of years ago, our political culture is contributing greatly to this state's reputation as a weird backwater.

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And speaking of national news articles, Congressional Quartley weighs in with a look at how all the recent scandals have affected Lt. Gov. Diane Denish's 2010 gubernatorial chances and Gov. Bill Richardson's effectiveness in the state. And no, it doesn't mention Val Kilmer, who seems to like telling people in the national press how he's serious about a possible run for governor (but he sure hasn't made any overtures I know of to the New Mexico media.) CLICK HERE.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

SCHOOL'S OUT!

At least until Monday. Both the House and the Senate are in recess until Monday morning.

Bloggers never rest, though. Watch this blog for developing political news even while the lawmakers are out.

CONFERENCE COMMITTEES TO REMAIN SECRET?


Several months ago in my Roundhouse Roundup column, I made the bold prediction that with the influx of "reformers" in the Senate, there was a good chance that conference committees -- the last bastion of secrecy in the Legislature-- could finally be opened to the public.

Never trust a reporter when they start predicting.

Check out my story in today's New Mexican. It seems that Attorney General Gary King, who has championed other aspects of open government, isn't quite on board for conference committees.

So between that and taking down the Webcast cameras, it looks as if some people would like to keep the Legislature as open as, say, The Moving America Forward Foundation.

Despite this snag, Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque is sponsoring a bill to shine the light of openness on conference committees. Check out Senate Bill 150 HERE.

Speaking of the Webcasts, Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, R-Albuquerque, is about to start her own Webcasts of her House committee meetings. I haven't checked it out yet, but I'll do that when the House goes into session today.

Maybe we can talk Janice into sneaking her camera into the budget conference committee.

UPDATES: I corrected some bad information about Rep. Arnold-Jones' Webcast. I also corrected the bill number on the conference committee bill.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: THE SCANDALS GO ROUND AND ROUND

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
January 22, 2009


Earlier this week, I reported that one of the listed directors of the secretive Moving America Forward Foundation — a “charity” founded by Gov. Bill Richardson in 2004 to encouraging minority voting — had been a lobbyist for a corporation that runs private prisons in New Mexico.

Another director of MAFF — which by law doesn’t have to disclose contributions or expenditures and has chosen not to do so — also has ties with a company that has benefited under the Richardson administration.

Anthony Correra was a major contributor to Richardson’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign, giving more than $13,000, according to the Institute of Money in State Government.

According to a story in The Albuquerque Journal last November, Correra, who has hosted fundraisers for prominent national Democrats with Richardson, is the father of Marc Correra of Santa Fe, who owns 30 percent of Horse Racing at Raton, the company approved last year by the New Mexico Racing Commission for a $50 million racetrack and casino in northeastern New Mexico.

Richardson, who appointed all five members of the commission, denies his association with Anthony Correra had anything to with Marc Correra’s company getting the nod from the commission for New Mexico’s final “racino” license.

Marc Correra didn’t return a phone call Wednesday. His father has an unpublished number.

While Anthony Correra was generous with Richardson in 2002, according to campaign finance reports, neither he nor his son contributed to the governor’s 2006 re-election or his 2008 presidential race.

Both Correras, however, did drop a lot on other Democratic candidates and organizations.

Anthony Correra gave out more than $65,000 in 2008, including donations to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. (All contributions to these presidential candidates were made after Richardson dropped out of the presidential race.) He contributed to party organizations in several states. His biggest contribution was $28,500 to the Democratic National Committee.

Marc Correra gave $38,950 to Democratic candidates and committees, including $28,500 to the DNC. His wife, Claudia Correra, who worked for Richardson as a “protocol officer,” gave more than $6,000 to various Democratic candidates.

The other MAFF director I mentioned was Joe Velasquez, a former adviser for Richardson’s presidential bid. He also was a registered lobbyist in the state in 2006 for a subsidiary of The GEO Group, which runs three private prisons in the state.

MAFF has raised at least $1.7 million since 2004.

Did any of the Correras or Horse Racing at Raton or The GEO Group give to MAFF? We don’t know. Richardson’s team still won’t release the names of contributors.

Meanwhile, back at the CDR investigation: Bloomberg.com reported Wednesday on a Sept. 22 subpoena of the Governor’s Office that basically confirms the federal grand jury in Albuquerque is looking into the activities of former Richardson chief of staff Dave Contarino, political adviser Mike Stratton, former Richardson economic adviser David Harris and JPMorgan Chase & Co. banker Chris Romer of Denver.

“The subpoena shows that the grand jury investigation centers on Beverly Hills-based CDR, which donated $100,000 to Richardson’s political committees in 2003 and 2004. During 2004, it was awarded a contract worth almost $1.5 million to advise the New Mexico Financial Authority on bond deals,” Bloomberg reporters William Selway and Martin Z. Braun wrote.

Stratton of Littleton, Colo., worked as a lobbyist for CDR and JPMorgan. He also was a top adviser in Richardson’s 2008 presidential campaign.

According to the Bloomberg piece, the feds also are interested in Richardson’s tenure as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association. The subpoena, according to Bloomberg, also requested correspondence with staff of the DGA, which Richardson chaired in 2005 and 2006.

On Wednesday, I revisited the DGA’s reports, filed with Internal Revenue Service during the Richardson tenure. In the past, reporters have gotten several stories out of those reports, mainly about plane trips by Richardson paid for by companies having business before the state, such as payday loan and tobacco companies as well as large contributions from The GEO Group and Stanley Fulton, a racetrack owner who was fighting the approval of a potential rival in Southern New Mexico.

But no, there’s no record of contributions to the Democratic Governors Association from CDR or its chief executive, David Rubin, in the reports covering 2005 and 2006.

It’s more likely they’re interested in Stratton, who, as a consultant, was paid more than $233,000 by the DGA during that time.

(Also check out AP reporter Barry Massey's story on the state having to post $16 million in collateral because of a drop in value of the CDR transactions.)

Fading green: Longtime local Green Party leader Rick Lass has jumped ship. Lass, who last year ran a tough campaign against Democratic Public Regulation Commission candidate Jerome Block Jr., registered Democratic earlier this month.

“I switched a couple of weeks ago,” Lass told me in an e-mail Wednesday. “The Dem party is making great strides for progressive causes these days, and I want to be in a place where my political work can be more effective.”

Lass lost to Block in the general election. But he did manage to carry Santa Fe County — the largest county in the PC’s 3rd District — as well as Los Alamos. He attracted the support of a group called Democrats for Lass formed by longtime local ward chairman Bernie Logue y Perea, former state Democratic Party Chairman Earl Potter and others.

FREE PARKING


Yes, parking near the Capitol still is a nightmare.

I just had to threaten a fellow journalist who parked in a reserved New Mexican spot. (Yes, we lucked out this year.)

We got a tip yesterday that city parking officers strictly were enforcing meter violations on the first day of the session. In the past, reportedly, they've been lax on the first day.

But the Legislature Web site is posting a map for free parking places for the session. CLICK HERE and for info on the free shuttle CLICK HERE.

IT'S A SESSION!


Sen. John Pinto just sang "The Potato Song" on the Senate floor.

This is much earlier than usual. Good omen?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

IF THE SENATE WAS WEBCASTING, YOU'D ALREADY KNOW THIS

Sen. Mark Boitano, R-Albuquerque, just made a speech about the leadership of the Senate (both Democrats and Republicans) deciding to not Webcast the floor sessions.

"My constituents want more openness, more transparency," he said. "By taking down the cameras, we're making the statement we want to be less open, less transparent."

He admitted there's no agreement about Webcasting in the GOP caucus and he believes the same is true for the Democrats.

Boitano said he's drafted a rule change to re-start the Webcasting project. He'll introduce it in a couple of days.

MEANT TO POST THIS YESTERDAY

Here's a link to all four 990 reports (2004-2007) for Gov. Bill Richardson's Moving America Forward Foundation. CLICK HERE

THE GOV IS SPEAKING NOW

The funniest line so far:

"Now I know there are some legislators who were looking forward to my departure, and not having to deal with me this session. I’m sorry to disappoint. I’ll try to make it up to you somehow."
UPDATE: You can see the entire text of the speech HERE

JENNINGS STAYS AS PRO-TEM

Sen. Tim Jennings wil remain as Senate president pro-tem. The Senate, with no discussion, voted 23-18 for Jennings over challenger Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa.

The vote breakdown was all 15 Republicans and eight Dems for Jennings. The Dems to jump ship were Jennings, John Arthur Smith, Linda Lopez, Linda Lovejoy, Howie Morales, Mary Kay Papen, and newcomers John Sapien and George Munoz.

What are the implications?

First of all Gov. Bill Richardson will continue having splitiing headaches that begin in the state Senate.

Secondly, if this was considered a test for progressive Democrats in the Senate, that doesn't bode well for that faction. One domestic partnership advocate told me this morning that the election of Jennings would be bad for that cause.

There will be much more about this in tomorrow's New Mexican.

HOPE IT'S NOT DRAFTY

Great Scott!

(from the Senate Republicans: )

Braveheart Senator Sharer

Santa Fe—State Senator Bill Sharer is donning a tuxedo kilt to celebrate the opening of the first day of the 2009 legislative session and as a reminder to his fellow legislators.

Senator Sharer who has Scottish heritage is wearing the official dress of Scotland because of Scots are known to be frugal.

“The Scots are world renown for being frugal. In our current economic situation, “frugal” should be the watchword of our session. I will wear my kilt periodically to remind my follow legislators that we must be frugal in the use of the citizens monPhoto by Diane Kinderwaterey,” Senator Sharer said today.

Senator Sharer’s kilt includes is made of the Scottish national tartan plaid design. He is also wearing a sporran which is rabbit fur pocket worn over the front of the kilt.

Because he is also wearing a tuxedo bowtie and dinner jacket, Senator Sharer says he meets the rules to enter the Senate Chambers which requires a jacket and tie.

Senate Chief Clerk Lenore Naranjo agrees Senator Sharer meets the requirements.

(UPDATED with photo of Sen. Sharer -- by Diane Kinderwater)

IN CASE ANYONE MISSED IT

Obama is now president.

I think I'll go watch the speech with the folks in the Roundhouse Rotunda.

OBAMABOBBLES

YOU CAN'T STOP IT: THE SESSION STARTS TODAY

In today's New Mexican, I look at the cruel irony of Gov. Richardson, who dreamed of being president and who almost made it to the Obama cabinet, being stuck here in Santa Fe having to wrangle with an increasingly contentious Legislature over an anemic budget. That story is HERE.

There's also a follow-up to the Moving America Forward Foundation story, some of which first appeared on this blog. While researching the story I stumbled across a 2004 article about MAFF on the Center For Public Integrity Web site. There, writer Agustín Armendariz raised questions about the foundation. It wasn't the secrecy of the contributors Armendariz is concerned about as much as the role of the foundation. "At issue is whether the activities of the foundation are philanthropic or partisan in nature, he wrote.

Anywho, the session starts at noon. Come on down!

Monday, January 19, 2009

ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER RICHARDSON PAC SCANDAL

This time it's the Moving America Forward Foundation, which, in a story broken Sunday by The Albuquerque Journal, has collected some $1.7 in contributions.

The foundation is under no legal obligation to report contributors or expenditures. And, according to the story so far, foundation officials are keeping quiet.

Even though they legally are within their rights to do just that, but politically, in the face of the pay-to-play accusations Richardson is facing with CDR, etc., it seems that such secrecy would only fuel the fires of suspicion.

One interesting tidbit: One of the foundation's directors is Joe Velasquez of Reston, Va. He told the Journal in an e-mail, "I had nothing to do with the foundation. I ran the MAF (Moving America Forward) Committee," referring to Richardson's now defunct political action Committee.

As recently as 2006, Velasquez was a registered lobbyist in New Mexico for GEO Care Inc., which at the time managed the troubled 230-bed Fort Bayard Medical Center east of Silver City. GEO Care Inc. is part of the private prison corporation that runs several New Mexico prisons, and which has contributed 10s of thousands of dollars to Richardson's campaigns and other politcal activities. (GEO discontinued the Fort Bayard contract last year by mutual agreement with the state.)

Last time I wrote about The GEO Group, in July, the company had contributed $43,750 to Richardson's 2006 reelection. Two other GEO lobbyists registered in the state contributed a total of $7,500 to Richardson's 2006 race. And while Richardson was chairman of the Democratic Governor's Association, GEO kicked in $30,000 to that organization (though it contributed more than $90,000 to the Republican Governor's Association during those years.) GEO and its board chairman George Zoley kicked in another $15,000 for Richardson's 2007 inauguration.

The company's PAC and GEO executives contributed a total of $16,500 to Richardson's presidential campaign.

Richardson spokesmen have repeatedly denied any link between GEO's contributions and the company's lucrative business with New Mexico. (In 2006 the contracts were estimated at $38 million, but that was before the new GEO-managed prison in Clayton was built. GEO also manages the prisons in Hobbs and Santa Rosa.)

According to the Secretary of State's lobbyist index, currently GEO has no registered lobbyists in the state.

Did GEO contribute to the Moving America Forward Foundation? I don't know, that information is secret.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

LEGISLATURE PREVIEW

Yes, it's the Sunday before the session starts, which means a good chunk of the New Mexican is devoted to previewing the Legislature.

My major contributions are a look at upcoming political drama and my annual "citizen's guide" to the Legislature, in which I talk about all the trouble regular people have trying to attend the session -- parking, weird schedules, tiny committee hearing rooms, etc. And did I mention parking?

You can find these stories and more on the session on The New Mexican's new 2009 Legislative Session page, which you should immediately bookmark. You'll find stories from our staff and the Associated Press on the session and New Mexico politics, videos from KOB TV, feeds from this blog, Kate Nash's Green Chile Chatter and our dynamic Twitter thing.

Plus, there's a video Kate put together, using me as "talent" (hey, quiet there in the Peanut Gallery!) doing a tour of the Roundhouse. We shot nearly all of it on the day after Thanksgiving and you'll notice that I point out the video cameras in the Senate gallery that were intended for Webcasting floor sessions. Those cameras, as loyal readers know, have since been taken down. Perhaps the Senate leaders who decided not to fund the Webcasting weren't as agreeable to appearing on camera as I was.

By the way, the music for our tour video was from a song written by myself and my brother Jack Clift called "God's Gold Ring." It was recorded about 10 years ago by a group we called The Grizzley Souvenirs, which included Jack and me plus Tom Adler on banjo and Al Faaet on percussion.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

BLOG RIOT!

A reader -- and fellow blogger -- who is upset with the state Senate leadership's decision not to Webcast floor sessions (despite an overwhelming vote by the full Senate to do just that) wants me and some of my fellow bloggers to lead an effort to "storm the castle."

Ched MacQuigg writes:

I believe that the blogosphere could lead in that encouragement.

A friend offered that, Terrell can't incite to riot, because he is a Journalist, and his credibility as a Journalist would be compromised by taking a side in the fight.

Why not let his readers be the judge?

Is it impossible to report the news candidly, forthrightly and
honestly, while at the same time standing up for what you believe in?

We have the appearance of a conflict of interest. The problem is addressed by full disclosure; it is no longer a problem.

Terrell could ask his readers to join him on the capital steps, and then report upon how many people showed up, and upon their effect.

So could Monahan.

So could Haussamen.

So could the Duke City Fix.

What if every blogger in New Mexico, offered their readers
an opportunity to gather together , and storm the castle?

What if every blogger offered their readers an opportunity to gather together, all together, to take back control over power and resources that are fundamentally their own?

I emailed MacQuigg and quipped, "You start the riot and I'll cover it." Let me say here for the record that I am not advocating or trying to incite a riot. That would be wrong, as President Nixon used to say. There are so many federal agents sniffing around New Mexico right now thanks to all these scandals, I don't want there to be any misunderstanding ...

But, in all seriousness, that indeed is my role as a journalist. MacQuigg's friend had it right. If someone wants to organize a protest on the Webcasts or anything else, I'll be the one with the notebook, not the one with the bullhorn. True there are advocate/journalists, but that's not what I do. It's certainly not what the people who sign my paycheck pay me to do.

Besides, like many reporters, I barely can organize my desk, much less a riot. Heath would have to drive up all the way from Las Cruces and Monahan only goes to riots where there's free food.

Friday, January 16, 2009

TO WARM UP FOR THE SESSION

Lorene Mills' Report from Santa Fe television this weeks features an in-depth interview with Senate President pro-tem Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, who is fighting to hold on to his leadership position.

Senate Democrats -- angry with him for helping Republican Sen. Leonard Lee Rawson in the general election -- nominated Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Taos for the pro-tem job.

From the transcript of the show, here's what Jennings said about the incident. You'll notice he also touches on his past clashes with Gov. Bill Richardson:


You know the Senate has been through a lot lately and I with
Sen. Aragon’s conviction or plea agreement you know there are some things out there that I think cast a shadow on the Senate and about its actions and the people in it. ... Sen. Rawson was accused and some of the things were out there said implicated that he was dishonest.

Well, anybody who has been here knows Sen. Rawson worked very hard for his constituency; he worked very hard for the people of the state. He was one of the people that is here early in the morning and he was here and he read the bills, he was probably knitpicky, when he was on Finance he was a very astute individual and he was really in tune with little details. He had a good memory and so you might call him a knit picker or a jerk or something like that I might agree with you. But to say that he was dishonest was very, very far from the truth in my opinion.

... I thought was something I needed to stand up as a leader of the Senate to say no, this member is honest. I consider him to be honest and I do and I still to this day would maintain I believe he is an honest individual. And if I see something that is wrong, you know you try to correct it and the truth is something to me that in politics is something that every political official must have and must have the ability to always speak the truth. And if you see something that is wrong, you should right it.


You should say something about it and then you shouldn’t be punished for speaking the truth and that’s probably where I would probably come into a great deal of conflict with this governor because if you dare to disagree or have an opinion different than his, he tends to keep track and get even, as he has with the Senate. And I don’t support that. I don’t think it’s wrong in this body to have different ideas. I think this is the place that should celebrate different ideas.


Here's a schedule for the show
* Sunday January 18, 6:00 a.m. for Albuquerque and Santa Fe and all of Northern New Mexico, on Channel 5, KNME-TV, the PBS station in Albuquerque.

* Sunday January 18, 11:00 a.m. for Las Cruces and the Southern part of the State, on KRWG-TV, the PBS station in Las Cruces.

*Saturday January 17, 6:00 p.m. for the entire East side of the state, on Channel 3, KENW-TV, the PBS station in Portales.

* Listeners in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and other locales can hear the Jennings interview on the radio 9:30 a.m. on Monday, January 19 on KANW-FM, 89.1 FM.

LETTERMAN SPEAKS OF RICHARDSON

In 2003 it was a billboard in Times Square.

Now it's come to this:

MORE ON THE VANDERBILT SCANDAL

I have a story in today's New Mexican about Vanderbilt Capital Advisors -- the company at the center of the latest pay-to-play scandal. According to Santa Fe court documents the federal Securities & Exchange Commission is investigating the company's dealing in New Mexico.
At least the campaign contribution checks didn't bounce.
Not only that, a few years before the state Educational Retirement Board and the State Investment Council lost nearly $90 million with Vanderbilt, the SEC found the Chicago-based firm had engaging in "a fraudulent trading practice." You can read what the SEC had to say about that previous case HERE.

Kate Nash has a story about legislator's reactions to the new scandal. You can find that HERE.

It's easy to get wound up in the minutiae of the case -- the details of the high-finance shenanigans, whether or not the state's deals with Vanderbilt are related to the campaign contributions to Bill Richardson's presidential campaign, whether former ERB investment officer Frank Foy, who brought the matter to light in his civil lawsuit, has an ax to grind, etc.

The important thing to remember is that 90 million bucks -- $40 million of which was money that was was supposed to be invested for teachers' pensions -- was flushed down the toilet.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

THE BEARD ALERT

A Washington, D.C. blog called "Princess Sparkle Pony's Photo Blog," which normally concerns itself with Condoleezza Rice's hairdos, is branching out. They've now got a "Bill Richardson Facial Hair Alert System."

And you can even buy Richardson Facial Hair Alert System T-shirts, coffee mugs and other stuff.

Not only that, but they call Richardson "Papa Bear."


(Thanks to Matthew Reichbach for spotting this.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, THE TOUGH GO CAMPAIGNING

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
January 15, 2009


When in doubt, hit the campaign trail.
RICHARDSON IN PORTSMOUTH
That seems to be the reflex of Gov. Bill Richardson this week as scandals mount, the state’s economic picture grows more grim, and tensions with the state Legislature — at least the chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee — grow.

A news release from Richardson’s office earlier this week reminded me of e-mails from his presidential campaign. But instead of naming stops in towns like Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Des Moines, the new one listed New Mexico towns and cities — and instead of selling himself as the best possible commander-in-chief, Richardson is talking about his legislative priorities and budget plan.

On Wednesday, he went to Farmington, Las Cruces and Roswell to talk about public-safety initiatives. Today, he’s scheduled for a breakfast with “local leaders” in Hobbs; a speech about education initiatives at the Lincoln Jackson Family Center Cafeteria in Clovis; and another speech and “Pre-Groundbreaking Rally” at the Tucumcari High School Auditorium.

Maybe that’s not as romantic as running for president. But the events aren’t that different from speaking to a couple of dozen people in a freezing airplane hangar in Dubuque, Iowa, or strolling bookstores and coffee shops in Portsmouth, N.H.
RICHARDSON'S VICTORY SPEECH IN IOWA
The audiences are bound to be friendly, and you don’t have to deal with a bunch of grumpy senators or jaded statehouse reporters asking questions about grand juries and lawyers.

Speaking of such unpleasantness: It seems that ever since Richardson announced he was withdrawing as President-elect Barack Obama’s commerce secretary nominee, there’s been a steady stream of news about state scandals popping up.

On Wednesday, two scandals duked it out for column inches and TV news airtime — allegations of pay-to-play at the Education Retirement Board and new revelations about funny expenditures by the state’s regional housing authorities.

For the benefit of those who don’t know the difference between CDR Financial Products and A. Gutierrez & Associates, here’s a pocket primer to recent New Mexico political scandals:

* Region III Housing Authority: Last week, The Associated Press reported a state grand jury is investigating the operations of an Albuquerque-based regional housing authority that defaulted on payments for $5 million in bonds it sold to New Mexico. State Attorney General Gary King has been investigating the housing agency, which the State Investment Council in 2006 concluded had misused bond proceeds to pay salaries and benefits, make loans and buy vehicles. The SIC in May 2008 filed a separate civil action against the agency’s former executive director, Vincent “Smiley” Gallegos, and an Albuquerque bond attorney, Robert Strumor, in an effort to recover the $5 million in taxpayer money. That suit is pending.

On Wednesday, State Auditor Hector Balderas released a report saying all five regional housing authorities he audited “were plagued by weak internal controls and a lack of adequate oversight,” and “the blatant disregard for proper policies and procedures created an environment ripe for waste, fraud, and abuse.” Gallegos has denied wrongdoing.

* Vanderbilt Capital Advisors: Another allegation of pay-to-play. Frank Foy, a former chief investment officer of the state Educational Retirement Board, charged in a civil lawsuit unsealed Friday that state officials pressured ERB and the State Investment Council to hire a Chicago company, Vanderbilt Capital Advisors, which had contributed more than $15,000 to Richardson’s presidential campaign. Vanderbilt lost a total of $90 million in state money.
Richardson’s office and other state officials named in the suit denied wrongdoing.
Rebecca Vigil-Giron
* Secretary of State expenditures: Last week, the Attorney General’s Office confirmed it’s investigating how federal election money was spent under former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron. Actually, the investigation was confirmed earlier by a strange news release Friday from the Department of Workforce Solutions, where Vigil-Giron now works. That statement was to deny a rumor that Vigil-Giron had been fired. “Ms. Vigil-Giron informed Secretary Betty Sparrow Doris of a pending Attorney General investigation involving matters not related to her work at the NM Department of Workforce Solutions,” that statement said.

A 2008 federal audit questioned whether Vigil-Giron had properly spent millions of dollars on a voter-education project that included television ads. An Albuquerque advertising company, A. Gutierrez & Associates, received more than $6 million to produce ads, many of them prominently featuring Vigil-Giron, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress last year. State records could substantiate only about $2.6 million of Gutierrez’s costs, the audit determined. Payments by the state to the company exceeded a contracted ceiling by more than $300,000. Vigil-Giron has denied wrongdoing.

* CDR: This is the grand jury investigation that cost Richardson a cabinet position. The federal grand jury in Albuquerque is looking at whether CDR Financial Products was awarded bond work for the state transportation construction projects because of campaign contributions totaling more than $100,000 from CDR and its chief executive officer.

Richardson has denied wrongdoing, and some of his supporters privately say the whole case is a political witch hunt by Republican prosecutors — remember the Justice Department scandals of 2007, some Richardson supporters say — who are out to make the governor look bad.

NEW PAY-TO-PLAY?

There's a breaking new scandal involving Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration and another allegation of pay to play.

A lawsuit unsealed in State District Court this morning alleges that state taxpayers were defrauded of $90 million by a host of financial companies and two state officials. Among the defendants are State Investment Office and Educational Retirement Board officials, including Gary Bland, who is appointed by Richardson and Bruce Malott, chairman of the ERB board.

The lawsuit, filed by Frank Foy, the former chief investment officer at the ERB, alleges that Bland and Malott were instructed by an unnamed “John Doe # 2” to invest statement in exchange for political contributions from employees of Vanderbilt Financial and associated companies. According to federal campaign finance records, Vanderbilt and its employees and their families contributed more than $15,000 to Richardson’s presidential campaign.

“John Doe # 2”’s identity has not been released. It isn’t clear why his name is being kept secret. The lawsuit was filed in July of last year.
Gary Bland
At the heart of the suit is an allegation that the state invested in $90 million with Vanderbilt companies. The state received dividends from the investment totaling about $3.7 million. But sometime since May 2007, “Vanderbilt has informed the ERB and the SIC not to expect any more from its investment.” The ERB invested $40 million and the SIC invested $50 million.

“The defendants sold the state of New Mexico a worthless combination of liar’s loans, lethal leverage and toxic waste,” according to the complaint, referring to industry terms for types of bad investments.

Foy, who eventually was demoted and, he says, was forced to retire, was the subject of a sexual harassment suit in 2007. His suit claims, “These accusations ... clearly contrived to force Mr. Foy to retire.”
Bruce Malott
“It was my job at the Educational Retirement Board to act as a prudent fiduciary to protect schoolteachers’ retirement money,” Foy said in a statement Wednesday. “But teachers and taxpayers have lost millions due to pay-to-play practices that benefited Governor Richardson and his campaigns. Our primary goal is to restore the lost funds to their respective owners: taxpayers, teachers, and retired educators here in New Mexico.”

According to the lawsuit, “Beginning in 2003, the ERB was pressured to award contracts and make investments with persons or entities based upon political considerations. These pressures were exerted by Bruce Malott on instructions from John Doe #2 (and perhaps others). This was a plain violation of the fiduciary duties owed by the ERB to its members.” Richardson became governor in 2003.

According to the suit, in early 2006 Patrick Livney of Vanderbilt began to call Foy and Malott, pressuring Foy and his staff to invest with Vanderbilt. Foy said the type of investments offered by Vanderbilt “was not a good investment, and it did not fit in ERB’s portfolio.” Foy “vigorously resisted,” as did other staffers, the suit says, but Malott insisted.

In May 2006 the ERB board voted 4-2 to invest in Vanderbilt. “The directors selected by public school teachers voted against the investment. The directors who voted for the investment were swayed by improper considerations,” According to the suit, those members “voted for the Vanderbilt investment on instructions from Malott and/or John Doe #2 (and perhaps others).”

The lawsuit says there were other instances in which Malott “pressured the ERB to hire investment managers who were not the best qualified candidates, or to make investments.” The suit doesn’t specify these cases.

“Malott’s actions were intended to gain business and political favor for himself and Meyners, as part of Meyners’ efforts to develop its accounting business,” the lawsuit says, referring to Malott’s Albuquerque accounting firm. “Malott’s actions were a deliberate breach of the strict fiduciary duties which he owed to the ERB and ERB retirees. Malott’s actions were not within the scope of his duties as an ERB board member; those duties do not include raising political contributions and developing business for his CPA firm.”

The suit says that on several occasions after the State invested in Vanderbilt, “the defendants knowingly made false statements about the investment and the underlying assets and liabilities. These false statements were designed to conceal and misrepresent the fact that the State’s investment was virtually worthless ...”

Foy started at the ERB in 1996 and retired in 2007.

Bland was appointed to the SIC by Richardson at the outset of his first administration. He makes more the $300,000 a year.

Malott, a CPA, served as chairman of a Richardson task force to look at shortfalls in the state’s education retirement fund and was named by Richardson to the task force to find an interim state treasurer in 2005 when Treasurer Robert Vigil resigned over a kickback scandal.

Vanderbilt is a subsidiary of Pioneer Investments of Boston, which in turn is owned by Unicredito Italiana, a large European Bank.

Watch this blog and The New Mexican for more details to come.

UPDATE 4:05 p.m.: Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos just commented on the lawsuit:

The Governor is confident that the state agencies named in this
lawsuitacted properly and in the best interest of New Mexicans. This lawsuit,filed by a disgruntled former employee who was accused of serious misconduct during his time as a state employee, makes absurd claims against state agencies. The state will vigorously defend those agencies."

Earlier , State Investment Council spokesman Charles Wollmann said Bland has done nothing wrong: “The state investment officer has not participated in any wrong doing and will vigorously fight the reckless allegations made today."

UPDATE: You can see the complaint itself HERE

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

DUB DEPARTS THE HOUSE


State Rep. Dub Williams, who won re-election to his state House seat in November, apparently has decided to retire.

The governor's office just sent this news release:

Gov. Bill Richardson released the following statement today, following the retirement of Rep. W.C. “Dub” Williams. Representative Williams has served the people of Lincoln and Otero Counties as State Representative for District 56 since 1995.

“While I understand his decision I am saddened at the news of Dub Williams’ retirement from the state legislature. Dub is the walking definition of the term “gentleman.” The legislature will sorely miss his considered engagement and even hand. I would request that the Lincoln and Otero county commissions seriously consider Dub’s wishes in sending the nominations to name his replacement.” - Gov. Bill Richardson

Most recently Williams served on a number of legislative committees including the Legislative Education Study Committee, Legislative Committee on Compacts, Indian Affairs Committee, Education Committee, Consumer and Public Affairs Committee and the Public School Capital Outlay Oversight Task Force
.

ANOTHER GRIP FINANCE FIRM INVOLVED WITH GUV PAC

Kudos to Bloomberg -- again. They've uncovered another lobbyist for a firm that was part of the GRIP finance team who played a role in Gov. Bill Richardson's political efforts.

Read the complete Bloomberg story HERE

Fred Duval of Phoenix was a lobbyist for the Swiss USB, one of four banks that split more than $5.1 million of fees for lining up buyers for the New Mexico Finance Authority’s GRIP project bonds sold in 2004. Duval also was listed as a director for Si Se Puede!, the political action committee that paid for the expenses of Richardson and his entourage in Boston at the 2004 DNC.

In the Bloomberg story, Duval denies he had a role in landing the NMFA bond deals for USB. He also said he didn't do anything but lend his name to Richardson's PAC.

Mike Stratton of Denver lobbied for JPMorgan Chase & Co as well as CDR Financial Products in 2004. He became one of Richardson's main political strategists in his presidential bid. I first met Mike in 2005 during a Richardson trip to New Hampshire -- though that was a year and half before he formally launched his campaign.

BAD SIGN

I just saw a Capitol maintainance worker taking down the cameras in the Senate gallery that had been purchased and installed for the purpose of webcasting state Senate floor sessions.

Last month I reported that the state Senate leadership had decided not to start webcasting this year despite the fact that the full Senate last year voted overwhelmingly to Webcast and had already spent $30,000 to buy and install cameras for that purpose.

When I talked with Sen. Mark Boitano, R-Albuquerque, who sponsored Senate Memorial 45, last month for my article, he expressed some guarded hope that he might be able to convince the Senate brass to relent and start the Webcasting afterall. With today's removal, it looks like that's one step further from becoming a reality.

Just a reminder: New Mexico is one of only six states that doesn't webcast at least some legislative proceedings.

Monday, January 12, 2009

COMEBACK OF THE YEAR: RICHARDSON'S BEARD

Photo by Clyde Mueller, The New Mexican
It starts with a little stubble ...











Photo by Clyde Mueller, The New Mexican

GOV TALKS ABOUT HIS BUDGET PROPOSAL

Gov. Bill Richardson at a press conference just declared the theme of the Legislature to be "The Year of Fiscal Restraint."

One of his proposals is to -- temporarily -- increase class sizes in public schools. It's not clear just how much. DFA Secretary Katherine Miller said the proposal is to eliminate the cap of 165 students per teacher in high school and middle school. Sounds like it could get crowded.

He also said under his plan the state would deauthorize funds for "stalled" capital outlay projects, for a savings of $263 million. We're not sure which projects they're talking about, but Miller said the list wasn't ready yet.

But the BIG news is that the beard is back! Currently it's only stubble, but that's how these things start. I asked him at the end of the conference, and he replied with a resounding "Yes!" (Hopefully I'll have a photo to post soon.)

Here's the official news release about the budget:

SANTA FE – Governor Bill Richardson today outlined a fiscally
responsible plan to cut spending, save money and improve tax collections by nearly half a billion dollars to prevent a budget
shortfall.

“Because we have been fiscally responsible by expanding our economy and saving money during the good times, we are well positioned to deal with this worldwide financial crisis,” Governor Richardson said. “Rather than irresponsible, across-the-board budget cuts that would slash services, we have targeted our efforts in a smart and strategic way.

“My budget plan does not increase taxes; leaves essential services for New Mexicans intact; and keeps substantial and responsible cash reserves to protect us against further shortfalls,” Governor Richardson said.

Governor Richardson is proposing budget cuts and improved tax collections totaling $498 million for the current 2009 budget year, which ends in June 2009.

That plan includes:
Targeted Cuts to Agencies: $108 million
Increased Tax Collections: $79 million
De-authorize capital outlay projects: $263 million
Other one-time cuts: $48 million

Governor Richardson is proposing budget cuts, new savings, improved tax collections and money from cash reserves totaling $455 million for the 2010 budget year that begins July 2009.

That plan includes:
Targeted Cuts to Agencies: $290 million
Increased Tax Collections: $34 million

GSD and DoIT savings: $12 million
Cash from reserves: $119 million

NY TIMES ON NM ETHICS

I have, and other reporters around here have written for years about the weak ethics laws in the state of New Mexico -- unlimited campaign contributions, laughable campaign-finance reporting requirinments, etc.

With the Richardson/CDR scandal, The New York Times has added its voice this weekend with a story headlined "Inquiry Highlights New Mexico’s Few Ethics Laws."

For me, the most surprising sentence was "For his part, the governor, who declined to be interviewed ..."

Bill Richardson refusing an interview with The New York Times??????!!!!!!!!?????

As John Lennon said, "Strange days indeed, most peculiar, mama!"

Sunday, January 11, 2009

DENDAHL STILL THINKS ABOUT NM

DENDAHL MEETS THE PRESS 2006 Former state Republican Chairman John Dendahl, who was Gov. Bill Ricahrdson's GOP opponent in 2006, might have left New Mexico, but he still thinks about us.

Here's his latest column, dealing with a certain governor we know, published on a conservative Colorado Web site called Backbone America.

It'll also be published Monday on the Family Security Matters site, where you also can find some of Dendahl's previous work.

UPDATE: 1-12-09 I added a direct link to Dendahl's story on the Family Security Matters link.

Friday, January 9, 2009

NEED ANOTHER LITTLE SCANDAL TO CHEW ON OVER THE WEEKEND?

I just received this curious little news release from the Department of Workforce Solutions. It's apparently in response to rumors swirling around the Roundhouse this week that former Secretary of of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron, who now works for the agency formerly known as the Labor Department, had been indicted.

Here's a background story on Vigil-Giron's situation: CLICK HERE

Here's the news release:

Statement from NMDWS Regarding Rebecca Vigil-Giron

There has been no personnel action taken against Ms. Vigil-Giron.

Ms. Vigil-Giron informed Secretary Betty Sparrow Doris of a pending Attorney General investigation involving matters not related to her work at the NM Department of Workforce Solutions. We are not aware of any allegations of wrongdoing.

Because this is an ongoing investigation, and because the Attorney General has not shared details of the investigation, we are not in a position to comment further
.
So it's really a non-news release. All it does really is confirm there is and investigation.

A spokesman for the AG's office said this week there has been no indictment or other action.

UPDATE: Here's a link to the Associated Press story.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

CROSSOVER

Happy Birthday Dick!
Yes, I did separate my music and political blogging. Yet sometimes the two intersect.

So anyone interested in reading about songs about Richard Nixon, whose birthday is Friday, check out Terrell's Tuneup over at my music blog.

GOT SCANDAL FATIGUE YET?

The Associated Press just broke this story. (I added a little background)

A state grand jury is investigating the operations of an Albuquerque-based regional housing authority that defaulted on payments for $5 million in bonds it sold to New Mexico.

Witnesses have been subpoenaed to appear in early February, according to a person familiar with the criminal investigation who asked not to be named because of the confidential nature of the proceedings.Attorney General Gary King’s office has been investigating the Region III Housing Authority, which the State Investment Council concluded in a 2006 report had misused bond proceeds to pay salaries and benefits, make loans and buy vehicles.

The investment council in May filed a separate civil action against the agency’s former executive director, Vincent “Smiley” Gallegos, and an Albuquerque bond attorney, Robert Strumor, in an effort to recover the $5 million in taxpayer money. That lawsuit is pending.

Gallegos, a former legislator and lobbyist is a longtime friend of House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Nambe. For years he was known to frequent the speaker's office when the Legislature was in session.The authority is one of seven in New Mexico created to provide affordable housing.A spokesman for King, Phil Sisneros, would say only that the investigation is “ongoing.”

He said he had no information about a grand jury.Albuquerque lawyer Paul Kennedy confirmed he is representing Gallegos, but declined on Thursday to comment further.

Staff in the State Investment Council office have “spoken at length many times in the past year” with representatives of the attorney general’s civil and criminal divisions, as well as with the state auditor’s office, according to spokesman Charles Wollmann.Wollmann said because of the pending civil lawsuit it would be inappropriate to comment further.

State Auditor Hector Balderas said that his office — which has been cooperating with the investigation — is preparing to release a report next week on the state’s troubled regional housing authorities, including Region III.

“I’m hopeful that this report will provide a clear financial view of what happened to these regions,” Balderas said.The auditor wouldn’t comment in advance of the report’s release on what his office had learned about Region III.

“I’ve directed my auditors to cooperate and provide any documentation that might be helpful to the attorney general’s office,” Balderas said.

Gallegos, a former state legislator from Clovis, resigned in 2006 as the executive director of the agency, which covers Bernalillo, Sandoval, Torrance and Valencia counties.According to a 2006 State Investment Council report, about $870,000 in bond money went to Gallegos as salary, benefits and a loan.

That report also said the housing authority sold homes to people who were not qualified because they had a relationship to the authority or were not low-income.

The civil lawsuit alleges that Gallegos defrauded and deceived the State Investment Council and misused bond proceeds to benefit himself and other employees.With Region III mired in scandal two years ago, the administration of Gov. Bill Richardson said only two of the state’s seven regional housing authorities were doing the job they were created to do, and an overhaul was needed.

The Legislature passed a bill that severely restricted their autonomy, removing their ability to issue bonds and providing closer scrutiny by the Mortgage Finance Authority and the state Department of Finance and Administration.

In 2006, Gallegos made the news when it was revealed that Bernalillo County Metro Judge Theresa Gomez and Speaker Lujan’s secretary were allowed to live rent-free for several months in homes owned by Region III. Both were told by Lawrence Rael, who at that time was in charge of Region III, to pay back rent.

ALL A TWITTER

I haven't mastered this Twitter deal yet, but my bureau partner Kate Nash started a New Mexican Twitter page.

Line up, sign up.

CLICK HERE

AN OLD CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTION

*$20K for Bill
When Gov. Bill Richardson announced he was withdrawing his nomination for U.S. Commerce secretary because of a grand jury investigation of a potential case of pay-to-play, several national pundits commented that he was the second governor connected with President-elect Barack Obama facing such scandals — the other being Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

There’s actually another connection between Richardson and Blagojevich — a $20,000 campaign contribution from Richardson to the Illinois governor’s PAC.

The contribution to Friends of Blagojevich, dated Nov. 6, 2006 — one day before the general election — was reported in December 2006 by Richardson’s re-election campaign.

Richardson won that election with nearly 70 percent of the vote. In that race he raised more than $13 million.

It’s not uncommon for politicians to contribute to each other’s campaigns. Much of Richardson’s campaign money that year went to other Democrats in New Mexico plus Democratic organizations in states like Iowa and New Hampshire, where Richardson would spend much of the next year campaigning for president.

Neither Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos nor re-election campaign official Amanda Cooper could immediately be reached for comment.

A federal grand jury in Albuquerque is investigating whether there was pressure in 2004 to hire CDR Financial Products, a California company that did work on state Transportation bonds. The company and its chief executive officer David Rubin contributed more than $100,000 to Richardson political committees.

In Illinois, Blagojevich was arrested in December after federal investigators caught him on a wire tap discussing selling Obama’s open Senate seat. A federal prosecutor said Obama is not suspected in any wrongdoing in that case.

UPDATE 11:22 am : Loyal readers will recall the "French Connection" drug deal involving Richardson and Blago that I reported last month. (Don't worry. Nothing really scanalous there.)

UPDATE 12:24 pm: The original version mistakenly said the $20K was from Blagovevich to Richardson. The contribution, as the story now says, was from Richardson.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: WE'LL ALWAYS HAVE BOSTON

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
January 8, 2009


A lot has been written in recent days about the company at the center of a pay-to-play investigation that forced Gov. Bill Richardson’s withdrawal as commerce secretary nominee early this week. But not much has been said about the political action committee that received the bulk of those contributions, the little-known PAC that paid for his expenses at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston.
BILL IN BOSTON, July 26, 2004
In case you’ve been on another planet for the past few days, a grand jury in Albuquerque has been looking at a California firm called CDR Financial Products, which did work on the funding of Richardson’s transportation construction program.

Shortly before and shortly after the New Mexico Finance Authority chose CDR for the work, the company and its chief executive contributed a total of $110,000 to Richardson PACs.

The biggest chunk of that was a $75,000 check from CDR on June 18, 2004, to a PAC called ¡Sí, Se Puede! Boston 2004 Inc. Richardson served as chairman of the Democratic Convention that year.

According to reports filed with the Internal Revenue Service, ¡Sí, Se Puede! raised $336,000 from the time it was formed in February 2004 until Nov. 19, 2004 — about four months after the convention — when Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. of New Jersey contributed $10,000 to the cause.

Richardson’s then-political director Amanda Cooper was listed as executor director of the PAC. Other directors included David Smoak, a state Judicial Standards commissioner; Fred Duval, a Phoenix consultant; Denver lawyer Ted Trimpa; Washington, D.C., businessman Miguel Lausell; and banker and Richardson crony Guy Riordan.
A guy named Guy.
Yes, that Guy Riordan. In July, a Securities and Exchange Commission administrative law judge recommended Riordan be banned from the securities industry for life for paying bribes to former state Treasurer Michael Montoya. The SEC has not made a final decision in the case, and Riordan has not been charged with any crime. But after Montoya, who has pleaded guilty in a federal kickback case, testified about accepting bribes from Riordan, Richardson donated $44,000 in contributions from Riordan to charity.

CDR was the biggest donor to ¡Sí, Se Puede! Other companies that were part of the team responsible for the state’s transportation bonds — UBS Financial Services, RBC Dain Rauscher and George K. Baum and Company — gave Richardson’s PAC a total of $55,000.

Other large contributions to ¡Sí, Se Puede! include Amgen, a California-based biotechnology company, $25,000; Rancho Viejo, $25,000; Las Campanas, $20,000; AKAL Security, $20,000; Northern Trust Co., Chicago, $10,000; and the G-Tech Corp. of Rhode Island, $10,000.
G-Tech, a company called “baldly sleazy” by Fortune magazine in 1996, ran New Mexico’s lottery from 1996 until November. G-Tech, according to a 2006 study by Santa Fe think tank Think New Mexico, charged this state drastically higher fees than those paid by other states with similarly sized lotteries.

So how did ¡Sí, Se Puede! spend its money?

As makes sense, a large portion of the expenditures was for hotels and airfare. More than 10 members of Richardson’s staff — including his political staff, three press spokesmen and state police officers on his security detail — went. (The state, not the PAC, paid for the police expenses.)

It’s difficult to determine just how much was spent on hotels. Several hotels are listed — Doubletree, Hilton, Hotel Marlowe, Hotel MIT, Hyatt, Ritz Carlton, Sheraton, Wyndham and the “Northeastern dorms.” However in later reports, several of these refunded money to the PAC.

The PAC also paid a limousine company called Lifestyle Transportation International more than $13,000 for convention transportation.

One of the biggest single expenses was $23,000 to Grand Canel, an Irish pub, for a “special event” during the convention.

Mike Contarino — a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire and brother of Richardson’s then Chief of Staff Dave Contarino, was paid a $500 consultant fee. (Mike Contarino later would become a foreign policy adviser for the 2008 Richardson presidential campaign.)

Michael Jacobs, an Albuquerque photographer, was paid $2,419.

State Public Education Secretary Veronica Garcia was paid $985 for “convention related travel and per diem spending.” Garcia on Wednesday explained she had been asked by the John Kerry campaign to speak about education at the convention. Her ticket was expensive, she said, because she’d booked a flight for later in the week but was told by the campaign they’d rescheduled her speech for the next day. “I flew in, gave my speech and flew back the next day,” Garcia said.

In late 2004 and even into 2005, the PAC still was paying bills. But there was plenty of money left over. ¡Sí, Se Puede! ended up donating $87,827 to the Democratic Governor’s Association, of which Richardson was elected chairman in December 2004 and which would be the conduit for much of Richardson’s travel expenses for the next two years.