The Anomaly: SunCal

surpriseThe Associated Press’ Barry Massey filed a report  late yesterday afternoon (updated today),  highlighting the spending of New Mexico lobbyists and their employers during the first four months of 2009.  Not surprisingly, spending on meals, beverages, gifts and grassroots lobbying efforts were way down this year.

This lower spending trend wasn’t universal.  The one anomaly was SunCal.  Tracy highlighted SunCal’s advertising spending in an earlier post.  But, now we can put that spending in context.

In the first four months of 2009, all lobbyists and their employers in New Mexico (there are hundreds of them) spent just over $354,000 on food, beverages, gifts and advertising.  However, SunCal spent a whopping $232,000 just on an advertising campaign to support their bid for a $400 million dollar Tax Increment Development District (TIDD) on Albuquerque’s Westside.

That $232,000 is a big number on its own.  But when you compare it to the overall spending for all lobbyists, combined, in the state, it becomes a jaw-dropping anomaly.

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Learning to Lobby, Winning a Battle

emma2There’s been much talk about how the New Mexico State Legislature is truly an inaccessible place for many residents who don’t have the time, the money or the practical knowledge of how business is conducted in the Roundhouse.

I’ve written about how perplexed and cynical I was after my first up-close look at the session.

But I wanted to also share the frustration of someone who was deeply involved in a particular piece of legislation that could have affected the civil rights of thousands of young people in Albuquerque.

Emma Sandoval, 22, is the youth coordinator at the Southwest Organizing Project, a social justice organization based in Albuquerque.

As one of SWOP’s registered lobbyists for this year’s session, it was Sandoval’s job to organize opposition to SB 525 and HB 379 – identical bills introduced in both houses that would allow Albuquerque Public Schools to create their own police force.

APS said they wanted their own force so they’d have access to the National Crime Information Center, a computerized criminal database.

But SWOP opposed the bill saying it would lead to unfair criminalization of young people and to a greater drop-out rate, especially among low-income teens and students of color.

To fight the bills, Sandoval had to wage a complicated campaign. She needed to track the progress of the bills though the maze of committees in both houses and attend key hearings. She needed to speak to legislators to know which ones supported the measure and which ones opposed it. She needed to be on top of attempts to amend both bills. And she needed to be able to inform and mobilize the people back in Albuquerque who stood to be deeply affected by the creation of an APS police department for specific events in and around the Roundhouse

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Ethics: The Myth of New Mexico’s Exceptionalism

lemmings2On Saturday, the NM State Senate delivered yet another blow to the cause of ethics reform.  SB163, a bill to impose a one-year cooling off period before ex-legislators can work as lobbyists, went down by a vote of 14-22.

One of the major purposes of the cooling-off period is to remove the temptation for lawmakers to push legislation made to order for future lobbying clients — in return for lucrative lobbying gigs immediately after they retire. Former Louisiana Congressman Billy Tauzin was an particularly egregious example of this at the federal level.  Note that under state law (the Governmental Conduct Act)  such a cooling-off period is applied to members of New Mexico’s executive branch – but the legislature thus far has exempted itself from this provision. SB163 would correct this omission.

The key moment of the lengthy debate over SB163 was a highly emotional speech against the bill by Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez.

Over the years, the Leader has honed many political skills.  And one that he has perfected to a high art – the taking of umbrage — was unleashed to full effect when he brandished the microphone for his assault on SB163.

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Not Getting Any Easier

As if on cue, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will gather this Thursday to mark up what should be an interesting report.

Now this isn’t just any report on accounting practices or procurement problems in an obscure agency. Nope. This is a report on Jack Abramoff’s contacts and connections with the White House.

A rather tenacious fellow from California named Henry Waxman chairs the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. This is a sampling of how Congressman Waxman runs his committee, especially in the face of a hostile witness and a less than supportive ranking member. Really, the guy does not pull punches.

The issue of nefarious connections between people in positions of power and those who ostensibly petition their government through lobbying has been well documented. Also well documented is the trouble this dynamic causes when the connections are built with money (gifts, travel, meals, beverages, large campaign contributions, etc.).

But, Thursday’s hearing raises another dynamic-the proverbial gift that keeps on giving. Continue reading

“Bidness” as Usual Express: The Eric Serna–John McCain Connection

From Santa Fe to Austin to Washington – it’s (as Molly Ivins would say) just the way they do “bidness” around here.

Let’s start with Eric Serna. Remember him? Once upon a time he was the young up-and-coming politico who, when he ran for Corporation Commission in 1982, populated the highways with all those god awful billboards that made him look like Eddie Munster?

Most recently Serna was in the news when he resigned his post as N.M. Superintendent of Insurance after coming under investigation by the state’s Attorney General. One of the many questionable acts that was being given scrutiny was Serna’s 2004 grant of a controversial waiver allowing a Dallas businessman by the name of David Judd Disiere (who had been convicted of insurance fraud in Louisiana) to do business in New Mexico.

A few months later an oil production firm owned by the Dissiere’s wife (Southern Management Services Inc.) serendipitously donated $20,000 to the nonprofit foundation which Serna been using his position to promote.

Just doing bidness.

When the shady deal all came to light, who should rush into the breach to assure state regulators that everything was on the up-and-up, but Disiere’s attorney – gold-plated lobbyist and former Texas Congressman, Kent Hance. Continue reading

McCain: “Happy Festivus, Insurance Industry!”

Over the past couple of months, a discussion on the core issues facing Americans has pretty much fallen by the wayside during the presidential campaign. Americans expect an adult debate on foreign policy, the economy and health care. Instead, the 24-hour news cycle is obsessed with one candidate’s middle name and who’s most at home taking shots at a bar.

It’s not surprising that people are getting fed up.

Fortunately for those of us who relish meaningful policy discourse, Senator John McCain is hitting the road this week to trumpet his plan for reforming the nation’s broken health care system.

As a primer for the headlines that are sure to come, I thought it might be important to highlight some questions about the Senator’s core policy prescription; tax credits to spur the purchase of private insurance.

Prior to the questions, however, let’s review some important facts about Senator McCain’s intimate relationship with the insurance industry. Continue reading

Lobbyists Gone Wild

When New Mexicans think about John McCain, I’m guessing most have a pretty vague, but favorable opinion about him. I certainly did, primarily because of his efforts on campaign finance reform several years back. But now, under the scrutiny of the Presidential race, I’m beginning to see McCain in a different light because of the ambiguity created by our current campaign financing system.

Media Matters reports that McCain has 24 staffers or advisors that were either registered lobbyists in 2007 or were previous lobbyists, including pretty high up positions such as his campaign manager, his deputy campaign manager and his senior policy advisor.

And his campaign co-chair and national finance committee co-chairman, former US Representative Thomas Loeffler (R-TX) is a lobbyist for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on trade issues, according to the Houston Chronicle. Continue reading