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.

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.

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Week in Rewind: More on TIDDs, Monahan’s ego, Animal Spirits, Blockgate, NM’s New Media, Bogus Polls and Val Kilmer too

Just now recovered from the legislative session. Here’s a buffet of the past week’s posts to re-taste and savor.

Downfall of the SunCal TIDD revisited: It came down to the wee hours of the session — David vs. Goliath and you know how that one came out.  Read all about it.

Environment Wins in Final Hours of NM Legislative Session

What about the other TIDD bills?

We still don’t know how much SunCal spent on all those TV spots, slick mailers and its army of high-priced lobbyists.  It was curious how, with each successive SunCal ad, the estimated number of jobs the development promised to produce would coincidentally keep going up and up and up — inversely tracking with the economy that was going down and down. But 33 House members didn’t go for the $408 million taxpayer handout.   At the end of the day, maybe all those lobbyists  just didn’t take Nick Naylor’s advice to “argue correctly.”  (From the movie, Thank You for Smoking).

Veteran Roundhouse reporter, Jay Miller (Inside the Capitol) offered his authoritative postmortem on the legislative session – including a harsh verdict on who was to blame for the demise of some ethics reform measures:

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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!

Accommodating SunCal’s Message Strategy

I’m glad someone else noticed that surreal statement from Westland/SunCal spokeswoman Catherine Wambach in Sunday’s Albuquerque Journal.

Wambach was asked how much the California-based development company spent wooing New Mexico legislators who are poised to consider legislation that could give the company over $400 million in tax increment development districts, or TIDDs, for a development on Albuquerque’s West Side.

That includes how much they spent for a massive web, television, radio and billboard advertising blitz in favor of TIDDS that recently blanketed the state.

From the Journal story:

SunCal spokeswoman Catherine Wambach on Thursday declined to say how much the company spent, saying the totals will be available in state-mandated reports 15 days after the legislative session ends later this month.

Providing the numbers in advance of that is “not part of our strategy. It’s not part of our messages,” Wambach said.

Matt Reichbach, who blogs at nmfbihop.com, gets it dead right in his analysis where he questions this ridiculous statement.

But it’s also interesting to note that the Secretary of State’s office has added a whole new section of their website, just to deal with lobbyist advertising campaign reports – like the kind Westland/SunCal is supposed to file?

What’s the rationale for that?

Again, why does SunCal get special favors?

Department of Distress: SOS on-line woes continue

What’s going on at the Secretary of State’s office?

sos1No, I’m not referring to this.

Infuriating as that is, it’s old news.

No, I’m talking about backlogs in posting public records online and barriers to access for people who are searching for those records.

Legislators, election observers and advocates for good government have been complaining about the efficiency of the SOS electronic filing system since it was instituted.

And I’m here to tell you:  It hasn’t gotten any better during the current legislative session.

I know this because of my personal experience with the office and because of the constant complaints I hear from reporters who frequent the SOS office and are grimly familiar with the roadblocks it throws up for anyone seeking public records.

That really bothers me, because if skilled, paid searchers have problems getting the documents they came for, what chance does the average New Mexican have?

My Story

I made a special trip to the Secretary of State’s office in Santa Fe on Feb. 12.

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SunCal’s Perverse Socialism

Today’s Albuquerque Journal reports the latest development in the taxpayer handout to SunCal story.

From the Journal:

SunCal Companies defaulted on $184 million in loans– losing five properties in foreclosure. At least nine lawsuits are pending in those states.

Moody’s last month removed a bond rating on one SunCal company responsible for four developments in Southern California.


Coco offers her take on all of this at Duke City Fix.There is a breathtaking perversity to the whole scheme: The handing over of millions of dollars tax revenues to an out-of-state developer to support the construction of more rooftops just when the economy is tanking and state revenues are already projected on a downward curve. (Watch the latest Eye on New Mexico for a sobering economic forecast.) Continue reading