Sunday, October 16, 2011

Roundhouse Roundup: Keep Those Campaign Contributions Coming In

(Sorry this is late to be posted. I'm still not used to posting my column early Sunday instead of early Thursday. I'll get the hang of it I promise)

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
October 16, 2011

I’m going to do something I rarely do. I’m going to say “thank you” to the state Legislature.

I’m not talking about the recent special session. My thanks are for our lawmakers passing a bill a couple of years ago that requires candidates for state office to report their donations more frequently. In the bad old days, our beloved politicians only had to file one report during a non-election year. Now it’s twice a year.

And the recent filings have yielded interesting stories. My colleague Trip Jennings reported about Attorney General Gary King accepting a $15,000 contribution from some New York law firm — which everybody except Attorney General Gary King seems to think is a clear violation of the new law establishing campaign contributions limits.

Then there’s the story about Gov. Susana Martinez, who, between her re-election committee and her political action committee, raked in more than $82,000 during the recent special session and the bill-signing period after it. The catch here is that the law prohibits a governor from soliciting contributions during that period but doesn’t say anything about accepting money during that time.

There’s no evidence that Martinez actually solicited any money during the session — except a “Donate” button on her SusanaPAC website, which was promptly removed when the Albuquerque Journal pointed it out in late September. The governor’s PACmen said only two small donations came over the website during the prohibited time and said both weren’t accepted.

What’s amazing to me though is that three years before the 2014 gubernatorial election, Martinez’s re-election campaign was able to bring in more than $66,000 without even asking for it. There might be campaign contribution limits in place now, but you can bet that 2014 is going to be another expensive campaign year.

Sonoma Susana: Another story to emerge from the campaign finance reports is the one about Martinez’s campaign funds paying thousands of dollars for a luxury resort in California wine country where Martinez gave a speech at a Republican National Committee dinner.

The liberal grassroots group ProgressNow blasted her for staying at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa, which, the news release said “boasts a $565/night couples spa package and a $195/per person buffet (not to mention golf outings, wine dinners, body sculpting classes and cooking classes on site.)”

I haven’t verified all those fancy accommodations. But I looked at the Fairmont website and the joint does look fancier than a Motel 6.

There’s no proof Martinez partook in all these luxuries. But you can’t blame her if she went to a cooking class or two. After all, Martinez fired the Governor’s Mansion chefs and even though she said she liked her husband Chuck Franco’s baloney sandwiches, chances are she’s sick of them by now.

Martinez isn’t the only politician who has used campaign funds to pay for out-of-state travel. Bill Richardson did it all the time. And I don’t think he ever stayed at an Econo Lodge.

Still, it’s funny how all the campaign ads you’ll ever see in New Mexico show the candidate talking to cowboys and construction workers and reading to school children. They never show the candidate sipping wine at luxury resorts.

Bill Richardson supports Susana! Here’s another tidbit from the campaign finance reports. On May 12, Bill Richardson gave $5,000 to SusanaPac.

But I don’t think it’s the guy Martinez vilified at every possible turn in last year’s campaign. This Bill Richardson lives in Jackson, Tenn. His occupation is listed as “business owner.”

On the same day, two other “business owners” named Richardson from Jackson, Tenn., (James and Joe) also gave $5,000 apiece.