Monday, January 19, 2009

Big Bill Takes Another Hit; Questions Raised About His "Charity"; Who Gave & How Much? Also: Our Economy; We Go To The No Spin Room 

New Mexico's Governor took another hit Sunday as another creepy crawler--a big one--emerged from under the rocks that have covered his political fundraising and are now being lifted by federal prosecutors with an assist from the press. This one is also dragging in some prominent New Mexicans who play on the political field, but are now looking clueless. It is also raising anew questions about possible abuse of IRS rules for groups calling themselves "nonprofit" and who are playing a growing role in state politics. These nonprofits don't have to tell us with any specificity who is giving them their money or what it is being spent on.

The ABQ Journal reports that, beginning in 2004, Big Bill collected $1.7 million for the "Moving America Forward Foundation," formed to increase voter participation among minorities. He collected the cash under the umbrella of a "public charity"--which means individual donors and expenditures don't have to be reported as they do for his campaign account or his political action committees. The comment that is going to cause Bill the most trouble came from Amanda Cooper, his longtime fund-raiser and campaign consultant. She is listed as a paid board consultant on IRS filings. Asked about the foundation and its donors, she replied: "I can't comment on that."

With that one line Cooper gave birth to the newest guessing game in La Politica.

What individuals and businesses, if any, gave money to the "charity?" Did any of them do business with the state? And if there is nothing to hide, why won't the Governor voluntarily release all donors and expenditures for the foundation?

Bill's administration is already under the scope by the federal grand jury for an alleged pay to play scheme in which the bond firm CDR won a state contract. That revelation cost him his chance to become Commerce Secretary under Obama. It doesn't take much of a leap of faith to assume that the federal grand jury is also looking at this foundation. Do you think that's why we are learning about it now?


Two political players are looking pretty clueless in the wake of this story and another has some questions to answer. Veteran politico and former Ambassador to Spain Ed Romero is listed as the foundation's president. He says he was a "figurehead" president and knew nothing about the foundation's business. Loretta Armenta, president of QWEST in NM, is listed as foundation secretary. She says she had "almost no interaction" with the foundation. NM Democratic Party chairman and attorney Brian Colon is listed as treasurer for the foundation. He did not comment to the press, but doesn't the treasurer of such groups usually sign the checks? Of the three, Colon may be most in the loop. Armenta and Romero appear to have given the use of their names to a group in which they took no active role and were not even curious about. If problems are discovered with the way foundation funds were raised and spent, will Armenta and Romero have problems? Such are the pitalls of political sycophancy.


The fallout from this is going to impact the controversy over nonprofits operating in the state and who have been ordered by the Secretary of State to register as political committees. They have refused and have filed suit in federal court. The Center for Civic Policy, headed up by politico Eli Lee, says it will have raised $1.645 million over two years and has voluntarily released the names of some of its foundation donors, but not individual contributors or itemized expenditure reports.

The Journal reported the Tides Foundation was a large donor to Bill's nonprofit. That same foundation gave $50,000 to Lee's Center for Civic Policy. The Center used nonprofit money to mail what they call educational and "advocacy" pieces into the districts of state legislators in the '08 elections. Attorney General King called the stuff blatantly political and in violation of state law. He and the Secretary of State ordered the nonprofits to register as political committees and report in detail their financial activities.

Some of the same players in these nonprofits will be lobbying the Legislature for ethics reform, but thanks to the revelations about Big Bill, pressure will grow for them to agree to complete transparency for their own political activities. They are already being accused of hypocrisy. Now their foes have stronger standing to demand that they be regulated and that such regulation be included in ethics reform bills. Don't say we didn't tell you.


Perhaps the most maddening comments coming from the spin rooms of certain New Mexico economists and a segment of its political leadership is that the economic recession here is "not as bad as it is elsewhere." It's been a favorite mantra to explain away the state's traditionally under performing private sector and the low wage jobs which have kept economic quality of life standards here well below that of our neighbors. Perhaps the current recession is not as deep here as it is in foreclosed ravaged cities, but in most cases living standards here aren't as high. In other words, in good times those places take two steps forward, while we take maybe one and a quarter forward.

As for the recession not being as severe here, other than on a human level, why should we care? We don't live in Tulsa or Tallahassee and we are confronting our own widespread economic pain. Maybe it's useful to compile just a few of the local and recent headlines:

ABQ restaurants Carrabas, Whisque, and Black Angus all close, throwing dozens out of work; Eclipse Aviation lays off over 500; American Home goes into bankruptcy--more lost jobs; the ABQ Journal lays off an undetermined number of workers; KOB-TV lays off nearly a dozen; Intel's Rio Rancho work force is now at 3,500 down from over 5,000; national chains Linens N' Things and Circuit City go under, costing dozens of more NM jobs; hiring freezes take effect at the University of New Mexico, the state and the cities of ABQ and Santa Fe; Advent Solar lays off 55 in ABQ; In the Silver City area, 1,100 copper mining workers will have lost their jobs by Feb. 13 as a result of the commodities crash. And we have yet to hear from the oil and gas fields where low prices could mean layoffs. And the list goes on...

No wonder the state's unemployment help lines are jammed. That's the real story in our state. It's not what is happening in Phoenix, Dayton, or Denver. It is the economic pain that is occurring in our back yard. If the economists and the incumbent political class would acknowledge it, we might do a better job of developing ways to deal with it.

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