Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Waiting For A Shoe To Drop: Nonprofits & ABQ Mayor Race, Plus: Slumping In Santa Fe, And: Denzel Doesn't Dazzle State Rep. 

Seasoned city political observers are nearly unanimous in their prediction that if political nonprofits controlled by consultant Eli Lee get involved in the ABQ mayor's race it will be with the goal to elect Democrat and liberal-backed Richard Romero. But Romero campaign manager Neri Holguin says it is misleading to suggest that Romero is being backed by the nonprofits.

"There is not a single nonprofit group backing Richard Romero. It's inaccurate to suggest otherwise," declared Holguin.

We blogged this week that Lee's involvement in the city election could become more radioactive than helpful to a candidate. Holguin, a onetime employee of Lee, has got to be aware of the early rumblings.

If Lee's nonprofits come--as they did in 2008 Dem legislative primaries--they will no doubt attack their longtime foe---incumbent Mayor Marty Chavez. They won't openly endorse any candidate because that would violate their federally tax exempt status.

The nonprofits don't have to report their donations or expenditures to the public. Critics say they have crossed the line from advocacy--allowed by the IRS code--to blatant political involvement--not allowed by the IRS. The issue of whether they have to register as political committees and show us the money is now in federal court.

If Lee agreed to report expenditures and donations, perhaps the heat would be turned down. But if he did so, he would risk losing his nonprofit tax exempt status. Don't look for it to happen.


Each of the three contenders who qualified for public financing for the October city election will get about $328,000 to finance their campaigns. The unknown is how much third party spending there will be. Republican RJ Berry has already received financial support from the Bernalillo County Republican Party. The party filed as a "measure finance committee" and will, as required, file a public report on who gave them their money and what it was spent on.

One of the chief planks of Romero's platform is ethics and campaign finance reform--he says he is a staunch backer. It will be interesting to see what his reaction will be if the nonprofits come with major bucks and get around the public finance system.

And remember, under the new law a candidate who is attacked by a third party will have the right to receive matching funds. But if the nonprofits attack but refuse to disclose how much they are spending, how would it be determined how much matching funds other contenders get?

The political nonprofits and their ardent supporters who have advocated ethics reform could now be responsible for undermining the very public finance system they supposedly support by unloading unaccountable and untraceable money into the '09 campaign. That's why charges of hypocrisy and arrogance could trump any message this money buys. Stay tuned.


Seven grand a month to rent art gallery space on Canyon Road in Santa Fe? No wonder this longtime art spot is going bust. The number of galleries in the city has now slipped below 100 and observers expect more shrinkage. Home prices are also expected to keep coming down in the struggling capital. Santa Fe is really getting hammered by this recession because of its role as a travel destination as tourism dries up.

The city was also punched in the gut when Thornburg Mortgage--caught in the real estate bubble--laid off 130. And what about the state workforce--the heart of the economy there? With tax revenue down, don't look for that sector to grow.

That's the bad news. The good news could be a more affordable Santa Fe for those who live and work there, but there's a lot more pain before that rainbow is sighted.

Meanwhile, Santa Fe Mayor David Coss may be playing with fire with his plan to have the city buy the bankrupt College of Santa Fe by floating revenue bonds. He says the city could count on collecting revenue to pay off the bonds from leasing campus land or selling some of it off. In this economy, this could become Coss's Crap Shoot. Imagine the free-for-all to get on that city owned land on the cheap. Or imagine a soft economy continuing and the campus not generating much money at all--from tutition or anything else.

The College of Santa Fe had a good run as a private school. Do taxpayers really want go gamble that the revenue will be there to pay off at least $35 million in bonds? If it isn't, guess who pays up? Why, Mr. and Mrs. Santa Fe. The city is already grappling with a fiscal crisis--the current budget deficit is projected to reach at least $13 million Why flirt with more problems and buy the failed college? Sentimentality and nostalgia don't pay the bills, Mr. Mayor.


Rep. Kintigh & Denzel
It doesn't appear actor Denzel Washington charmed GOP Roswell State Rep. Dennis Kintigh. Denzel recently gave $50,000 to the financially struggling Roswell Boys and Girls Club, but Kintigh says he isn't blinded by Hollywood light. He will continue his opposition to the generous tax breaks the state has given the film industry. His bill to repeal the tax breaks failed in the recent legislative session, but he writes in an op-ed piece making the rounds:

In 2003 this program cost $1 million. By 2008 the cost had increased to $47 million, and it is expected to grow to $54 million in 2010. One study claims the return to taxpayers is $1.50 for every tax dollar paid out. The other study identifies the return to be only 14.5 cents on the dollar...The recently adopted state budget shifts an increased burden onto our public workers. These workers will now have their pay reduced by 1.5 percent to save the state $40 million...How can this administration call for sacrifices while at the same time give away $54 million to one protected industry?

Would a free popcorn voucher from Denzel change your mind, Dennis?


Former ABQ Journal columnist Jim Belshaw has put together some of his favorite columns for his book "Trickster in the Front Yard." He will do a book signing at Bookworks in ABQ this Sunday at 3 p.m.

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