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Monday, September 16, 2013

More On Dark Money Move Into NM; Why And How? Plus: Mental Health Mess Takes Toll On Susana, Also: Gatorgate News  

Welcome back...Let's pick up where we left off last week...

So we have the dark money group "NM Competes" surfacing in the state and expected to collect sizable anonymous money to advance Governor Martinez's re-election prospects. Why?

New Mexico's new campaign rules restrict individual donors to giving $5,200 per election, but they can give unlimited amounts of "NM Competes" and under the IRS rules at the same time they can keep their identities secret.

Want to give $100,000 to help out Susana? No problem? In a big spending mood and want to give $500,000 and keep it secret? Just write the check.

Martinez isn't supposed to know who gives money to the nonprofit but can we really believe word doesn't leak out and that public policy isn't influenced as a result? At least with the rules governing a  candidate's campaign we know who gave and can watch for any influence peddling.

Martinez can't raise the $9 million or so inside the state she wants for her re-election campaign  (Neither could Dem Guv Big Bill). The cap on donations plus her falling out with SE NM oil interests hamper her. But as the first female Hispanic Governor, Republicans around the country are more than willing to pony up. She will raise millions that will be reported and abide by the state spending caps, but NM Competes appears to constitute a "shadow campaign" that could make up for any slack.

When Martinez ran for election four years ago these dark money nonprofits had not yet come into being. Since then courts have allowed them.  In 2010, she raised hundreds of thousands from Texas developer and mega-donor Bob Perry, but it was all publicly reported.

Our campaign money insiders think NM Competes has the markings of the conservative billionaire Koch brothers but no one can be sure. Well, Sara Lister, the longtime GOP NM political operative who is running the outfit, could tell us. But she won't.

IRS rules prohibit Lister and NM Competes from coordinating campaign strategy with Martinez campaign media strategist and political adviser Jay McCleskey. Lister and McCleskey are very close politically. Also, under IRS rules politics is not supposed to be the primary purpose of the type of nonprofit run by Lister.

For that reason NM Democrats are calling NM Competes "brazen" and they are already asking how the group can be monitored to see if it is violating IRS regulations by coordinating any of their efforts with those of the Martinez campaign,

They are also raising questions about who is producing the media for NM Competes and whether it has or will have any direct or indirect ties to McCleskey Media Strategies.

Dark money being run by a NM political operative makes for dark suspicions.

Not to say there isn't or won't be Democratic dark money in the Guv campaign. But Martinez is the first beneficiary and also has the reins of government.

FIRST POTHOLE

Already NM Competes may be running afoul of campaign law. We reported Friday that the nonprofit has not only cut radio ads to prop up Martinez's position on the mental health mess, but has also hired canvassers in Roswell to register ""conservative" voters. That raised a red flag that Democrat Fred Moran promptly waved:

Voter registrars are required by law to register all voters regardless of Party affiliation. If these canvassers were simple registering conservatives that would be illegal.

MARTINEZ POLL

Yes, Governor Martinez enters the '14 cycle politically strong, but there are cracks, according to insiders who passed us information from a recent poll conducted for NM legislative Democrats. One of them put it this way:

"Martinez is very well-liked by the public on a personal level. They like her to the point where they don't connect negative events with her. However, the turmoil in the behavioral health system that has aroused so many has taken a toll on her and provides the Democrats an opportunity. 

As for the economy, the poll shows the public see it as very poor, but they blame "politicians" as a group not Martinez in particular. 

The upheaval over mental health providers caused by the administration suspending 15 NM firms is now starting to creep into the national press and giving Martinez more headaches.

The New York Times took up the matter in this piece, focusing on the disruption of service to mental health clients as a result of the suspensions.

The ABQ Journal. perhaps predictably, comes with support for allegations of widespread fraud in the Medicaid funded behavioral health system that is alleged in an audit conducted by an out-of-state firm. That audit is not being released, but portions of it favorable to the administration's argument are being selectively leaked to the media.

The Journal report and editorial they had explaining ties of the NM nonprofits to an Arizona for profit firm was not convincing (at least not to us), although worth exploring.

Also, the local paper has not yet come with any investigative reporting on any possible political links between the Martinez administration and the AZ nonprofits brought in to replace the suspended NM firms. Maybe there are none, but this blog with the assistance of one its readers revealed on August 7 a relationship between Martinez and mega Republican campaign donor Jim Click. He's a wealthy Tucson automotive dealer with close ties to the Arizona mental health community who hosted a fund-raiser for Martinez in May of this year.

In turn, Click has a political relationship with Nathan Sproul of the political consulting firm Lincoln Strategy Group---the same firm that the Governor's top political adviser worked for before forming his own consulting company.

This is really the first big issue Martinez has taken on that has poked firmly at the state's Democratic base. She has largely kept the peace by ignoring the hard right agenda of Republican red state governors. But her attack on the NM mental health firms alleging fraud and the reports of service interruptions in a state with an ongoing social conditions crisis exposes her.

The Democrats' problem is tying it all together There are dozens of critics with political standing who are pointing figures, but with no coordination or point person it can be confusing.

That dark money nonprofit "NM Competes" airing radio ads seeking support for Martinez suspending the health groups is solid evidence that she has lost ground. But if Dems can't keep the heat on her in a focused way, she could begin to undo the damage.

MODIFIED LIMITED HANGOUT

As for the Martinez administration announcing that in response to media pushback, she will release her calender, put that in the category of "modified limited hangout."

She is not releasing her current calender and the past ones she is posting on her Web site are far from complete. The news:

The website calendars don’t account for the governor’s whereabouts each day. There’s nothing listed on some days to indicate whether the governor was in New Mexico working in the governor’s office, had departed that day for an out-of-state political appearance or left Santa Fe to drive to another city in the state for a public appearance the following day.

We checked the calender to see if it listed listed any stops at the Hyatt Tamaya  in Bernalillo for the week in August when the Koch brothers were holed up there and Martinez stopped by. The calender made no references to any appearances at the Tamaya.

And an open government group calls this "a substantial step forward for transparency?" What kind of Kool-Aid are they drinking?

GATOR GATE

And then there's Gatorgate. That's the weird trip first gentleman Chuck Franco took to Louisiana in 2011 while the administration was negotiating a lucrative racino lease with owners of the Downs at ABQ--who happen to live in Louisiana.

The latest is that state police officer Ruben Maynes who accompanied Franco on the week long adventure as part of a "security detail" and whose Louisiana relatives paid for Franco's food and lodging has resigned from the Governor's security detail:

A State Police officer who accompanied Gov. Martinez’s husband on a 2011 Louisiana alligator-hunting vacation partly funded by taxpayers resigned from the governor’s security detail, Martinez’s office confirmed. Officer Ruben Maynes had worked on the State Police’s governor security detail since December 2010. State Police Chief Pete Kassetas said Maynes resigned  for personal reasons and was not facing any disciplinary action.

And finally, official confirmation comes as a result of this resignation that Mayne's wife works as an executive assistant to the Governor and two of his sisters were hired as maids at the Governor's mansion. We blogged that eyebrow raising info months ago.

One of our own Senior Alligators--not of the swamps of Louisiana--but of the treacherous waters of La Politica--comes with the relevant question:

The question is what really happened that warranted Maynes' wife being hired directly as an exempt hire into the governor's office, and his two sisters getting hired directly into the governor's mansion? Would Maynes' family paying for two nights of lodging, some food, and a hunting permit really be repaid that way?

Both Attorney General Gary  King and State Auditor Hector Balderas know about all of this. What do they have to say about it? Have they made Maynes return the pay he received for conducting security while in the company of his own son in Louisiana while purportedly providing security for Chuck Franco?

Well, Gary and Hector may not get along politically, but they both seem to agree that they don't want to get involved much in the Downs deal. But  the state Dem Party did come to life on this one:

Governor Martinez, who ran on full transparency in government, has ignored repeated requests to explain why taxpayers should pay security costs for her employed husband who works security and carries a law enforcement badge. “It’s time that Governor Martinez provide detailed answers on her husband’s vacation and why this state police officer has resigned so abruptly and suddenly."

The administration says none of Franco's trip was paid for by the Downs at ABQ owners. Several former Martinez aides say they have been questioned by the FBI about the controversial Downs lease.

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