SunCal Ad Report: Double Standards and the Zombie TIDD

SunCal:  Selling a pig in a poke

SunCal: Selling a pig in a poke

The regular session of the 2009 Mexico State Legislature is over now, but the aftermath of what happened in and around the Roundhouse keeps floating down around us like tiny flecks of ash.

One detail that’s just been released is the amount of money that Westland/SunCal spent on advertising during the legislative session.

Many New Mexicans were curious to know just how much the California-based development company spent blanketing the state with print, broadcast and online advertisements touting the benefits of TIDDs – or tax increment development districts. The ads were part of Westland/SunCal’s effort to get legislators to approve a bill that would have given the financially-troubled company $408 million in future tax revenues to develop a parcel of land on Albuquerque’s West Mesa.

The Secretary of State’s office said state law allowed the company to take up to 15 days after the session to report the advertising expenses.

In the waning hours of the session, the Westland/SunCal TIDD was narrowly voted down  – and this week New Mexicans found out the price tag for the company’s huge public relations push.

According to a report  filed this week with the Secretary of  State’s office, Westland/SunCal spent $232,540 to tout the benefits of TIDDs, including about $80,000 on local network television advertising, $55,000 on cable, $23,000 on billboards and more than $10,000 on radio.

“Inadequate” Report

That near quarter-million dollar total is pretty shocking all by itself.

But at least one veteran legislator suspects the report barely scrapes the surface of what Westland/SunCal laid out to try to get New Mexico legislators to pass the TIDD bill.

“I think they spent a lot more than that. Because from what I’ve been able to see in the report, it’s very inadequate,” said Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque. “I think they spent at least twice that to try to get us legislators to buy a pig in a poke.”

Other expenses that Westland/SunCal paid out – but wasn’t required to report – include the money they spent mailing thousands of slick brochures to people’s homes, contributing to candidates and employing 11 lobbyists to convince legislators to vote for the lucrative tax legislation.

“We knew they were spending a lot of money but they didn’t have to tell us,” said Stewart.

Like all other entities who lobby at the Legislature, Westland/Sun Cal will have to file a report in May detailing how much their lobbyists spent on food and drink for legislators during the session – but the total amount of the rest of the expenses will likely never be known.

Apples and Oranges?

I can’t help but contrast SunCal’s big money pro-TIDD push with the pushback from New Mexicans who are fed up with big companies coming in and throwing their money around.

While there was much grassroots opposition to the Westland/SunCal plans, relatively little money was spent. One of the most significant advertisements against TIDDS came from Albuquerque land use attorney Lora Lucero, who ran a half-page anti-TIDD advertisement in the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Lucero, who personally paid about $1,300 for the ad, told me she checked with Secretary of State Mary Herrera before she did so to find out the proper reporting procedure.

Lucero said the secretary of state’s office told her she needed to file as a lobbyist and then must file a lobbyist’s expenditure report with Herrera’s office within 48 hours of placing the ad. Lucero said she filed as a lobbyist, then filled out and returned the paperwork Herrera’s office sent her within the 48 hour timeline.

Good for the goose but not for the gander?

“I asked her if SunCal was going to have to report what they spent, and she said no, they were not going to have to report, because they had filed under an advertising campaign. I had filed as a lobbyist.”

Rep. Stewart said she’d heard about Lucero’s situation and was perplexed about why Lucero was given different reporting requirements than Westland/SunCal.

“I feel like I have to look into the state statutes on that, because it doesn’t make any sense.

I can’t quite understand why SunCal gets a pass and doesn’t have to file until after.”

Why Does This Matter?

All of this still matters because, unbelievably, New Mexicans might have to fight this battle again.

A story posted today in the New Mexico Independent says Gov. Bill Richardson may consider reviving the SunCal TIDD during a planned special session of the Legislature in September.

Perhaps treating the news with a spot of humor – gallows or no – is the best way to accept this news. That’s what local blogger Coco did, pairing her incisive post about the SunCal “zombie bill that wouldn’t die” with a charming retro illustration.

Good for her. I sure wish I could find something funny about this.

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One Response

  1. […] universal.  The one anomaly was SunCal.  Tracy highlighted SunCal’s advertising spending in an earlier post.  But, now we can put that spending in […]

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