Monday, October 28, 2013

The Ties That Bind: NM Competes And Its Deep Connections To The Governor And Her Shadow, Plus: PAC Attacks On School Super Brooks Ignite More Controversy;  

Do critics have it right? That NM Competes--the political nonprofit that is roiling the waters of La Politica--is actually “a secretly funded arm of Gov. Martinez’s reelection campaign?"

You don't have to dig very deep to see some very deep connections between NM Competes, the Governor and her chief political adviser Jay McCleskey.

The group--which last week mailed the hit piece posted here against ABQ Public Schools Superintendent Winston Brooks--bills itself as "a nonpartisan 501C4 organization."

It has to organize itself that way in order to be able to keep donors to NM Competes private. But the IRS designation also means it is prohibited from coordinating its activity with the Governor's re-election campaign.

But just how nonpartisan is NM Competes? Its director is Sara Lister a former deputy cabinet secretary in the Martinez administration and a veteran political operative who raised funds for former GOP Senator Domenici and was campaign manager for Republican Darren White's 2008 US House campaign. White, Lister and McCleskey are political associates of many years standing.

Then there is the board of directors of NM Competes. We checked with the Secretary of State and found that the board is composed of three members--all highly partisan Republicans with very close ties to Martinez campaign chief McCleskey. There's not a single Democrat or independent on the board. Here are those directors, with some of the background info provided by our Alligators:

Pat Rogers--He's the longtime Republican lawyer/lobbyist who is the current NM GOP National committeeman. Rogers has a decades-long involvement with GOP politics. His most recent claim to fame is being ousted from the board of the NM Foundation for Open Government. That was part of emailgate--the scandal in which it was discovered that the Martinez administration was using private email--not their government email accounts to conduct state business. 

Duncan Scott--He is a former ABQ Republican state senator and onetime law partner of Mickey Barnett, who is also a former Republican state senator and former GOP National Committeeman. Scott served on the Martinez transition team. Scott ran for the state senate with the backing of Barnett. He served one term. Barnett has also been the personal attorney for Jay McCleskey.

Scott later partnered with Paul Kienzle who is a Martinez appointee to the NM Game Commission. Kienzle led the Martinez transition team search for the position of General Counsel. Joining Kienzle on that transition team was his law partner Duncan Scott.

Rich Beeson--He's a Republican political operative who worked for Mitt Romney in 2012 and is a BFF of Jay McCleskey's. Beeson and McCleskey became friends when McCleskey worked for Beeson at the Republican National Committee. 

It's worth repeating--If the Governor and McCleskey are to be in compliance with the federal rules applying to NM Competes, they are to have no coordination of campaign strategy or advertising with Lister or the board.

Asked again to comment on the charge that NM Competes is a secret political arm of her campaign, the Governor's office responded:

The Governor does not control this group and has not seen the (Brooks) mailer, but is glad there are common-sense and reform-minded voices in this debate.

There's really not much of a fig leaf for Martinez and McCleskey. The political associations are simply too close for reasonable suspicions not to be raised. And the fact that the board members are all stalwart Republicans closely tied to McCleskey makes plausible deniability of no coordination between NM Competes and the Governor's campaign that much more difficult.

A chief line of defense by the Governor's operatives is that dark money groups have sprouted up that oppose the Governor. True enough, but that doesn't address the concern that NM Competes is funded by a group of unknown donors who may be looking to get something from state government in return for their support.

Martinez has the power. That's why the focus is on her and why before her it was on Gov. Richardson and his donors.


Just where is NM Competes getting all this money to bash Brooks and support Martinez's decision to suspend Medicaid funding to nonprofit mental health care providers?

Mailers have been sent to thousands of households. radio ads have been bought around the state and as Campaign '14 draws closer, TV ads are probably not far behind.

Democrats hold up the billionaire conservative Koch brothers as likely backers because NM Competes resembles other Koch backed nonprofits.

How such groups can get into trouble is shown by this news from California:

Two nonprofit groups connected with the billionaire Koch brothers are part of a $16 million settlement with the state of California for funneling money to political campaigns without properly disclosing their donors. California Attorney General Kamala Harris and the state’s campaign finance regulator, Fair Political Practices Commission, reached a settlement that includes a combined $1 million fine for two Arizona-based organizations described by regulators as “part of the ‘Koch Brothers’ Network’ of dark money political nonprofit corporations.” The agreement also forces two California campaign committees to disgorge $15 million received without proper disclosure.

The Koch brothers met with Martinez this summer at the Hyatt Tamaya resort which they completely rented out to host a closed-door political conference. We don't know who Martinez brought along to that meeting--if anyone. But it would be interesting to know if Sara Lister or Jay McCleskey were among the guests.


The blistering mail attack on Superintendent Brooks was characterized by APS school board member Kathy Korte as another example of "bullying" and "intimidation" by the Governor's political arm.

Social media lighted up with reaction to the Brooks bashing as well as to an editorial in the Sunday Journal that ignored the big story of the new political paradigm taking place in the state via NM Competes. Instead, it joined in on the attacks on Brooks, Korte and the teachers union.

All of this had our Alligators wondering why the Guv's political machine has gotten so worked up of late. She sports an approval rating hovering near or at 60%, according to the latest insider polling. Why not let sleeping dog lies and walk this one home?

As it stands the attack machine operating on behalf of the Guv may be rousing segments of the Democratic base who will now make sure they get to the polls next year.

One of the Alligators had this to say about the harsh politicization of the teacher testing and behavioral health issues:

It's like she's going on to the battlefield to bayonet the wounded and dead. The administration is nicely positioned politically, but she and Jay can't help themselves. They seem to want a fight for the sake of having one.

Maybe so. But also remember that the legislative record of this administration is exceedingly sparse. Perhaps Susana is feeling the frustration of a 60% approval rating but little of consequence to show for it.

The administration's thirst for victory at any cost has them implementing the teacher evaluation program by executive decision because the Legislature would not go along (conservative Dem Senator Georg Munoz is one of those balking at that). Now they are using their usual weapon of "attack, attack, attack" to try to get the final win. But after three years their one dimensional and predictable act could be wearing thin.

Brooks, Korte and the teachers have joined a line--albeit a small one for now--that no longer capitulates to gubernatorial thumping--whether it be by her shadow governor or the dark money shadow group NM Competes.

If Martinez truly wants the "bold change" she campaigned on and desires to become a substantive political figure, she is going to have to learn that she can't do it by being a prosecutor and threatening to indict anyone who dares to differ. Otherwise, her governorship will remain a personal triumph and a triumph of her public personality. Maybe that's enough for her, but it makes little difference to the lives of others.


The reporting requirements for NM Competes run by NM GOP operative Sara Lister are very skimpy. The group will have to eventually tell us how much they raised and spent, but little else.

One of our campaign insiders adds this twist: We may not get any financial info on NM Competes until after the November 2014 election:

A nonprofit can routinely request two extensions on their annual "990" IRS tax returns (May 15 and Aug 15) with a final Nov. 15 deadline. That would mean the first publicly-available "990" for NM Competes--a501c4 nonprofit incorporated in 2013--would not need to be filed until 2 weeks after the 2014 election.

That's pretty convenient for Governor Martinez but surely just a random coincidence, right? Sure.

One other note on this. To qualify for its special tax status, NM Competes can't spend the majority of its money on politics, and its primary advocacy must be on issues. But where and when do those lines cross?

NM Competes---how much money? From whom? Does it cross the line? And what's the impact on the '14 race for Governor? Stay tuned...

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