The Karma of Quack: Gary King and Pay-to-Sue

duckbillNew Mexico Attorney General Gary King was singled out for a special scolding by the mighty Wall Street Journal yesterday over the so-called “pay-to-sue” practices allegedly common among some state Attorneys General.

Yesterday’s editorial was triggered after King called the paper to complain about being mentioned in a previous WSJ editorial called The Pay-to-Sue Business.

That April 16th editorial focused on the questionable practice of state attorneys general accepting large campaign donations from law firms, then turning around and retaining those firms in no-bid contracts for “off-the-shelf” suits that require little original work.  Most of the editorial focused on Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and donations he accepted in 2006 from the firm of Houston attorney F. Kenneth Bailey, who was later given a no-bid, contingency-fee contract to sue a pharmaceutical company on behalf of the state.

But the piece, in listing other contributions made nationwide by the Houston firm, also mentioned a $50,000 campaign donation the firm made to King shortly before his election in 2006.

In yesterday’s editorial, titled Mr. King and His Courtiers, the WSJ explained how King’s explosive reaction to merely being mentioned in the story compelled them to look more closely at operations in King’s office.

“Some public officials are touchier than others. Take Gary King, the New Mexico Attorney General, who reacted to our recent passing reference to him by denouncing us and calling our pay-to-play facts nothing but politics. That sounded like an invitation to investigate Mr. King further, and, sure enough, he deserves an editorial all to himself.”

The editorial goes on to dig into the details regarding the donation to King from the Houston firm and notes that the firm was later retained by the state of New Mexico to sue a pharmaceutical company in a suit similar to others the firm had tried. It also uncovers some embarrassing irregularities regarding the contracts and ultimately, forces King to defend the practice of contracting private law firms altogether.

The knock on King has not gone unnoticed in New Mexico.

Perhaps the most interesting response comes from conservative blogger Mario Burgos, who references widely-ridiculed statements that King has made in connection with his definition of political campaign intervention, an issue that is currently in the courts.

“There’s an old saying that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then its probably a duck,” say AG King. “And I think we know a duck when we see one.”

I’m quite certain King is hoping no one decides to use the old “quacks like a duck” legal standard on him in this case.

Advertisements

Week’s End Flashback: Open ConCom Bill signed, Health Care Reform, polluter bailouts, more Monahan mashing, King v. Balderas and a Pot Poll

As we plunge into a new week, here’s a flashback on some of the stories/posts we found interesting from last week’s fare:

Governor Richardson signed Open Conference Committees bill

Marjorie at M-Pyre speculated on the Gov’s game of cat and mouse.

Steve Terrell told us so and paid tribute to the late Bob Johnson.

Peter St. Cyr makes strong  case for health care reform
Sweeping Good Government Reform Bill Awaits Governor’s Signature.

Dr. John Fogarty warns of another corporate bailout
Polluters are pushing for their own massive bailout

APS and the Office of Circumlocution
Burque Babble translates the hidden meanings in an APS press release.

Who’s Twittering?  Matt has the answers.
New Mexico Twitter users

Attorney General Gary King uses subpoena power against political rival
Haussamen:  AG, auditor engage in a legal food fight

Monahan got skewered again and again over SunCal avoidance,  anonymous sources and blogger credentials

Inkstain:  Anonymous Sources

Monahan ignores SunCal news

Linthicum-Monahan feud continues

And self-appointed defender of the blogosphere Monahan refuses to doesn’t have a NM blogroll.

National blogger Nate Silver gave us some generational polling on pot
Why Marijuana Legalization is Gaining Momentum

And finally, in the Val Kilmer for Governor Watch
Val Kilmer gets the support of fellow actor Russell Means.

The Case for Campaign Contribution Limits: How Bob Perry bought a state Supreme Court

bob-perry1

As we’ve said before, the passage by the legislature of a campaign contribution limits bill – which now awaits Governor Richardson’s signature — was long past overdue.  New Mexico was one of only five states in the nation with no caps whatsoever. Texas is another.

Perhaps that’s why Bob Perry, the multi-millionaire Houston homebuilder, and his wife Doylene Perry have found New Mexico politics so hospitable.  In 2008, Bob wrote campaign checks to the New Mexico Republican Party totaling $240,000.  In the 2006 cycle, the Bob and Doylene dropped a total of $361,000 into the state — to the following beneficiaries:

Continue reading

Session Wrap: Big Wins for Ethics Reform, Green Jobs and the Environment

gavel1The gavel has sounded, the 60-day session is over, and we’re pleased to report a number of significant victories for ethics reform, green jobs and the environment.

ETHICS REFORM

On the ethics reform front, three high priority measures passed and await the Governor’s signature.

Campaign Contribution Limits: New Mexico was one of only five states with no restriction on the size of campaign donations.  Now you can scratch us from that ignominious list. Thanks to Common Cause, Senator Dede Feldman, Senator Peter Wirth, Representative Jeff Steinborn and others for their tireless work on this issue. (link)

Open Conference Committees: In years past, six designated lawmakers would often meet behind closed doors, away from the prying eyes of the public and the news media, where they could then radically alter passed legislation.  And year after year, the Senate would kill efforts to open up these conference committees to the public.  But this year the Senate broke with tradition and passed this reform overwhelmingly.  Hats off to the sponsors, Senator Dede Feldman and Representative Joseph Cervantes.

Legislative Webcasting: 2009 was the year of sunshine.  Now audio webcasting of floor sessions of both houses is available to the public.  Primitive video webcasts of Senate floor sessions started in the last week.

Defense of Nonprofits: A number of bills were introduced to restrict the public education efforts of nonprofit organizations around legislative issues. All of these assaults of the First Amendment were turned back.  In an impressive show of unity, the nonprofit community rose up to meet the threat, including the ACLU, American Cancer Society, Amigos Bravos, Audubon Society, Common Cause, Environmental Law Center, New Energy Economy, Conservation Voters New Mexico, AFSCME and many others.

GREEN JOBS

New Mexico Youth Organized, working with a host of allies, passed SB318.  SB 318 creates a one million dollar job-training program for green jobs. In the final hour, the legislature also passed HB 622, creating a bonding framework for green jobs.  Extra special thanks to the bill sponsors, Speaker Ben Lujan and Senator Eric Griego!

TIDDs

Conservation Voters New Mexico worked tirelessly to kill a $400 million Tax Increment Development District proposal for sprawl development west of Albuquerque. The California developer SunCal spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on industry lobbyists and advertising.  Nice work, CVNM!

Thanks to all of you for following this blog, and for your commitment to social and economic justice!

Ethics reform bill prevails over Sanchez’s umbrage

Representative Joseph Cervantes

Representative Joseph Cervantes

With the clock running out on the legislative session, ethics reformers scored a major triumph last night with the passage by the state Senate of HB393, the bill to open conference committees to the public.

And just minutes before the debate commenced, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez issued a long and acerbic press release, contrasting his “principled” opposition to ethics reform and disparaged legislators who support reform as being unprincipled headline seekers.

Nevertheless, the reformers prevailed by a 33-8 majority. As expected, Sanchez was joined in opposition by President Pro Tem Tim Jennings (D-Roswell) and Minority Leader Stuart Ingle (R-Clovis) – both long-time open committee opponents. What was surprising was the size of the winning margin – with only one other member of the Democratic caucus voting with Sanchez and Jennings.

Senator Dede Feldman

Senator Dede Feldman

The Heroes

The heroes of this fight were Senator Dede Feldman (D-Albuq.) and Representative Joseph Cervantes (D-Las Cruces).  Cervantes, a long-time champion of open government, sponsored the measure and got it through the House.

And special kudos must go to Feldman, who for years has toiled in the vineyards of reform and came just one vote short of passing open conference committees in 2007.

With the end of the session fast approaching, Feldman played a key strategic gambit to get the bill moving.  Here’s Haussamen’s account as it played out:

Continue reading

The Sayings of Senator Lopez

rip

Senate Rules Committee: Where ethics bills go to die

Feb. 25, 2009: She (Sen. Linda Lopez) also promised to begin discussion on the proposal to create a state ethics commission “first thing” Friday, but said working out disagreements and drafting a committee substitute bill that combines several existing bills related to that controversial proposal will “take a little more time.” NM Independent

Feb. 28, 2009: “We do not let out every bill on its own. That’s not good law,” she (Lopez) said, promising, “the list looks long, but we’ll get some stuff moving this next week.” Santa Fe New Mexican

March 3, 2009: After the meeting, the committee chair, Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Bernalillo, said that the bills were moving slowly because the committee was “trying to reach consensus.” NM Independent

March 19, 2009: When asked whether she believed the issue was dead, Lopez said: “At least for this year — yes.” Several other ethics commission bills — including one sponsored by Lopez — have been pending for weeks in the Rules Committee… Albuquerque Journal

So one of the key ethics reforms of this session — an independent ethics commission — has been pronounced dead for another year.

In the dizzying wake of so many public corruption scandals, and just two days after the sentencing of former Senator Manny Aragon, New Mexico finds itself stuck in the dwindling list of state that still do not have an ethics commission.

A key figure in this ongoing public policy quagmire, Rules Committee Chair Linda Lopez presents a fascinating study in contradictions.  On the issue of ethics reform, she strikes the pose of the ultra-cautious, deliberative lawmaker, working behind the scenes to hammer out a studied consensus between her colleagues.  They’re really the recalcitrant ones, you know. We must not rush to judgment in these weighty matters, she tells us.

So another week turns into another year, then another and another.

Yet in her other legislative persona, Lopez is the go-go-Senator-in-a-hurry,  boldly taking the TIDD tool where no TIDD has gone before, fast tracking a $400 million taxpayer handout to California developer SunCal — and obligating a good chunk of state revenues for the next 25 years.

Whoosh!

Here’s more of the backstory on Madam Chair and her committee — where ethics bills go to die:

Continue reading

Senate webcasting opens to bad reviews

johnsapienI generally don’t encounter much free-flowing consensus when I’m wandering around the Roundhouse. But as I haunted the curving halls of the Capitol yesterday, I found one thing on which everyone agrees:

The new Senate webcasting sucks.

It seems no one – legislators, constituents, journalists – is happy with the single, fixed camera positioned in the back of the chamber that provides a stultifying view of the back of everyone’s heads.

The webcasting began Monday after a protracted battle in the Senate, waged mostly by legislators who apparently did not relish the thought of cameras recording them for posterity if they said something silly.

But proponents of webcasting, including an overwhelming section of the public, pushed for an officially-sanctioned, ever-present light on the sometimes impenetrable process of lawmaking.

In the end, webcasting friends (mostly rank and file Senators) and foes (mostly Senate leaders) compromised on a plan to install one stationary camera in the back of the Senate chamber. As one legislator reasoned, it was exactly the view anyone would get if he or she drove to Santa Fe and sat in the gallery – no more, no less.

It’s gone over like a lead balloon.

The New Mexico Independent’s Gwyneth Doland – who, in the absence of webcasting, has performed a public service by logging hours and hours of legislative webcasting and liveblogs for her site — posted this on Wednesday to register her continuing displeasure with the limited camera scope.

Let’s be clear – the frustrating footage is not the fault of the Legislative Council Services staff, who are working hard to improve the performance of the single camera it’s been tasked with operating.

No, the people I talked to place the blame squarely on the man who spearheaded the much-maligned compromise plan – Sen. John Sapien (D-Corrales).

Let’s recap.

Continue reading