Monday, August 13, 2012

Roundhouse Roundup: Susana Unscathed

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Aug. 12, 2012

Two arrests over a fraudulent audit at a state agency, including the No. 2 man in the office. The next day, the top dog at the agency is put on leave with pay while the investigation continues.

You might expect a state government scandal like this would evoke passionate, if predictable, outrage against a sitting governor.

Gov. Susana Martinez
Gov. Martinez
But so far, Gov. Susana Martinez has been relatively untouched by the New Mexico Finance Authority’s fake audit scandal. There’s hardly even any feigned outrage, the most common currency in modern political rhetoric. Even the usual denouncers have held back on denouncing, at least as I write this.

One big reason for the silence is the fact that there’s no evidence Martinez herself is involved in the phony document-making that apparently took place at the Finance Authority. Another is that the agency itself isn’t under the governor’s direct control — though her appointees, including four Cabinet secretaries, make up a majority of its governing board. Plus, Martinez’s Securities Division conducted the investigation and made the arrests.

But basically, even though there have been criminal charges filed against former Finance Authority comptroller Greg Campbell and current chief operating officer John Duff, the fake audit affair isn’t exactly juicy in a political sense. There’s been no evidence reported of anybody involved embezzling money from the Finance Authority. There’s no hint of political contributions or pay-to-play. And there’s no sex.

Responding to a question about the scandal Thursday, Martinez, through a spokesman, said, “I’m very pleased that our Securities Division is moving so quickly in this investigation. Everyone is entitled to their day in court, but those who have broken the law must be held accountable and we must send a clear message that violating the public’s trust will not be tolerated.”

Rick May
I also asked about the authority’s chief of staff, Rick May, who on Thursday was suspended with pay. May came to the job last September after serving eight months as Martinez’s secretary of Finance and Administration.

“Regarding May, the governor supports the actions taken by the NMFA board today as they continue in their effort to ensure that an independent and thorough investigation and audit is conducted,” spokesman Scott Darnell said. “She has been clear that she wants no stone left unturned in the effort to determine how the fake audit was produced and what the accurate financial position of NMFA is.”

Gone was the flowing praise Martinez had a little less than a year ago, when she announced that May was leaving his Cabinet job. “Secretary May is tremendously talented, and New Mexicans should join with me in thanking him for his service at the Department of Finance and Administration,” Martinez said in a news release last August.

“I’m grateful that he is eager to tackle yet another challenge on behalf of our taxpayers.”

Asked Thursday whether the administration shared any responsibility in the scandal, Darnell didn’t answer directly. “As she has said, the governor is hopeful that the investigation and audit into NMFA will help to identify the key deficiencies in the structure, organization and operations at NMFA, wherever they may be,” he said.