Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Roundhouse Roundup: Film Incentives Take Blows from Left as Well as Right

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
March 3, 2011


New Mexico’s film industry has been under attack from conservatives. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who wants to reduce the state tax credit for films made here, never misses a chance to say the state can’t afford to “subsidize Hollywood on the backs of our schoolchildren.”

But this week some voices from the nation’s political left have been making arguments similar to those of New Mexico Republicans.

In an op-ed published Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times, liberal pundit Michael Kinsley asked the question, “Why can’t states grasp the absurdity of giving welfare to film and TV producers?”

Kinsley — he was the skinny guy with glasses representing the left on the old CNN political shout-fest Crossfire — cites and derides Gov. Bill Richardson’s recent opinion piece in The New York Times, in which New Mexico’s former governor touted the economic benefits of tax incentives for the film industry.

“In less than a decade,” Kinsley wrote, “the absurd notion of welfare for movie producers has evolved from the kind of weird thing they do in France to an unshakable American tradition.”

Let me reiterate: This is Michael Kinsley. Not Susana Martinez.

He ended his column with a jab at “the Hollywood elite,” as the conservatives call them: “Did you watch the Oscars on Sunday? Did that look like a crowd in need of a government subsidy?”

Local film-industry advocates argue that it’s not fat-cat Hollywood execs who most need and most benefit from this state’s incentive program, but stagehands, techs, construction workers and others who work for small businesses that see gains when movie projects come to town. Filmmakers, they argue, can always take their business elsewhere.

Later Tuesday, Mother Jones — a publication named after a radical labor leader — joined the fray.

Writer Kevin Drum mainly quoted Kinsley’s piece, which he agreed with wholeheartedly. Kinsley, he said, was correct that Richardson’s figures “are almost certainly bogus. Ditto for the same kind of voodoo accounting used to pretend that massive subsidies to millionaire owners of sports teams pay for themselves in increased business.”

SOS investigates: Last week Secretary of State Dianna Duran told me she didn’t believe Gov. Susana Martinez violated any election law by using leftover campaign funds to buy radio ads aimed at whipping up public support for bills to repeal the law allowing illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

But it now appears Duran’s office is conducting some type of investigation of the matter.

The immigrants rights group Somos Un Pueblo Unido complained to Duran and the state attorney general that the state Campaign Reporting Act restricts the post-election spending of campaign funds to “payment of campaign debts, donations to charities or the state’s general fund, contributions to other candidates or political parties and refunds to the contributors.”

Common Cause New Mexico agreed and asked the AG to investigate.

But late last week, Duran’s office sent a letter to Martinez’s campaign manager asking for a written response within 20 days. Ken Ortiz, Duran’s chief of staff, told me Thursday the letter “is the standard process we have established for handling all formal complaints, so that both the complainant and the respondent are offered the opportunity to present their positions in writing.”

The bills Martinez is backing have been stalled in the committee process -- though apparently there will be a vote Thursday on a motion to blast HB 74 out of committee to the House floor.

At any rate. the verbal sniping between the two sides is alive and kicking. In an e-mail about Duran’s letter, Somos’ executive director Marcela Diaz said, “New Mexicans deserve to know how the Governor justifies using campaign funds to pay for inflammatory and misleading ads regarding such a complex public policy issue.”

Danny Diaz, spokesman for Martinez’s campaign, said in an e-mail, “The secretary of state already initially reviewed the matter and made clear that the use of campaign funds was completely appropriate and ‘found no violation of the reporting act.’ The letter from her office is routine, and we continue to believe that it is ironic that a radical special interest group that believes illegal immigrants have a right to New Mexico driver’s licenses does not believe the governor has a right to free speech.”