Mario Burgos

Clear thinking and straight talk from the top of a mountain.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It Just Keeps Getting Worse

With every passing week, it becomes ever clearer that Governor Richardson, and everyone in his administration,  will find themselves tainted come Election Day by the pay-to-play political scandals of the last eight years:
Douglas Goldberg, a former vice president of CDR Financial Products, admitted in federal court in Manhattan on Monday that he was involved nationally in bid rigging of investment agreements and other contracts involving municipal bonds from 1998 to at least November 2006. He is cooperating with authorities.

Goldberg was involved in getting CDR hired in 2004 to work on the $1.6 billion state bond program in New Mexico known as Governor Richardson's Investment Partnership.

The company won a contract as an adviser on exotic financing arrangements that were not described in the request for proposals issued by the New Mexico Finance Authority.

It later received a no-bid, sole-source deal to manage the escrow account for the bond proceeds from the authority, which was charged with handling the GRIP financing for the Rail Runner and other New Mexico transportation projects.

The voting public is not going to be able to drive a road or see the RailRunner without being reminded that someone bought the opportunity to win those projects from this administration.  Now, some of you may think that Governor Richardson is termed out, so this is all just water under the bridge.  But, this is clearly not the case.

Take for example the current scandal plaguing the Secretary of State's office. We might all remember that not all that long ago Insurance Superintendent Eric Serna was chased from office for the shakedown of those doing business with his office:
Former New Mexico Insurance Superintendent, Eric Serna, got forced to resign after years of allegedly shaking down those that came under his authority:
Serna indicated to Madison that he favored "good corporate citizens" making contributions to legitimate charitable organizations. Ruiz said Serna sometimes "looked the other way" on fines when insurance companies agreed to make contributions to favored charities. Ruiz said Serna would choose Con Alma and $35,000 would be sufficient.
At first glance, some might argue that he is just trying to help out some needy charities. Of course we later learned that Serna used at least one of those charities as his own personal slush fund.
A couple of years later, we see that absolutely nothing has changed. Our elected Democratic officials are still following the example set by the Richardson Administration:
A string of e-mails obtained by the SUN does support one of the allegations made in Salazar’s letter. Salazar states in one e-mail to [Secretary of State Mary] Herrera that he feared losing his law license because of activities in the Office.
“Ma’am, I not only have a duty to protect you, this office and the people of New Mexico, I also have my law license to protect,” Salazar wrote in a Feb. 12 e-mail to Herrera. “By law, this office is charged with responsibility for enforcing the Governmental Conduct Act. If we are asking our current contractors for this, then it is illegal.”

This e-mail refers to the Office’s attempt to ask private companies that contract with the Office for money to help fund a training event for county clerks to be held later this month.
What blows my mind is that you would think Secretary of State Mary Herrera would be particularly diligent in following the letter of the law considering her immediate predecessor is under indictment for her activities while heading up that office. But hey, this is the Land of Eternal Single Party Rule.  A magical place where elected officials can shakedown businesses and individuals with impunity.  Sure, they will occasionally have to throw one of their own to the scales of justice, but then they go back to their ways without ever worrying about Election Day ramifications... until now.

Election Day 2010 is looking to be the day the piper finally comes to get paid.  People have had just about enough and are ready to bring honesty back to elected offices. Granted, the favorite attorney of the pay-to-play crowd (e.g. Vigil and Correra) may see a downturn in business, but the rest of us will be far better off.  Heck, it looks like even Mr. Bregman might need a little time for a breather. His ability to outright deny the allegations of wrongdoing by his clients is becoming more and difficult:
But Bregman told the Journal that Salazar's resignation had nothing to do with any of the concerns voiced in the letter.

"It had everything to do with the fact that he didn't want to work," Bregman said. "It's clear he wasn't a good fit for this office — as he said in the e-mail — and that's because it required a lot of work."
Even the casual reader can't help but notice that in his attempt to deflect the blame, even Secretary of State Herrera's attorney didn't deny the allegations of the resignation letter, which if you haven't read, I would strongly urge you to do so (hat tip:

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Richardson Approval Numbers in Free Fall

The Teflon Governor is Teflon no more.

We're going to have our New Mexico poll results out starting tomorrow- perhaps the most interesting thing we found is that Bill Richardson has become one of the least popular Governors in the country, with 63% of voters in the state disapproving of him to only 28% approving. He's even in negative territory among Democrats at a 42/47 spread.

I've always been amazed by Governor Bill Richardson's early popularity. Despite the rhetoric, the "successes" of this Administration have been nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

And, this is just the tip of the iceberg. I could go on for days, but you can just hit the appropriate label button below and read it all without me repeating it.

So, what does this all mean for the Democratic hopefuls during this upcoming election year.  Well, right now it looks like Richardson Administration #2, Lt. Governor Diane Denish, is still polling out ahead... barely:

Where New Mexico departs from its regional counterparts is that it still looks favored to vote Democratic in its most significant statewide race this year. Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish leads her top Republican opponent, Pete Domenici Jr., by a 45-40 margin and has leads of 14-18 points over the rest of the GOP field.

Denish is by far the best known of the candidates running, with 41% of voters in the state holding a positive opinion of her to just 34% who see her negatively.
 Keep in mind, the Lt. Governor has been campaigning for this position for going on two years. So, I don't know that those  numbers are anything to celebrate about - especially, considering Pete Domenici Jr. just got in the race a couple of weeks ago.

It's going to be very hard for the Lt. Governor to start disengaging herself from the Governor after Denish has been so silent for so long. Only 34% of the voters see her negatively right now, but let's be realistic.  She has operated in the shadow of Governor for the last eight years. His failed policies are bringing him down very quickly.  It's not going to be very long before that same problem is encountered by Richardson's #2. This is particularly true when we consider that the Governor spent so much time out of state during his Presidential dream chasing, that the state was actually being run by Lt. Governor Diane Denish.

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Monday, February 15, 2010





Denish-come-lately (plural Denish-come-latelies)
  1. (idiomatic) A newcomer; a novice; an upstart
 Example in Common Usage:

Considering her complicit silence for seven plus years as Lt. Governor and many more years before that as the Chairman of the Democratic Party, many might consider Diane Denish's election year decision to become an open government advocate something of a Denish-come-lately phenomenon.

It's been more than half a decade, all of which Lt. Governor Diane Denish has occupied the number two seat in one of the most corrupt and backroom dealing administrations this state has ever seen, since I've lamented the fact that how the administration spends taxpayer dollars is done in secrecy.

Now that election season is in full swing, Governor Richardson's number two is trying to reposition herself as a "Champion of Sunshine."  Well, she may be able to fool some folks, but come November the voters are not likely to forget that when it came to letting the sun shine in this scandal plagued administration, Lt. Governor Diane Denish her time hiding in the clouds.

Even as recently as a few months ago, when this administration refused to identify those the 59 administration faithful who were supposedly being cut (probably to hide the fact that some were being moved to other positions), the sound of Lt. Governor Denish's silence was deafening.

Sorry, but being a Denish-Come-Lately to the sunshine brigade is just not going to cut it in November.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Return to Feudal Times

People who work for the government work for us - the taxpayers. Ultimately, we're their bosses. I know, based on some interactions you have with your employees it seems that they conveniently forget this fact.

Be that as it may, it truly works much the same as any business. We, the tax-paying bosses, produce revenue so that they have a job. This goes for everyone who is collecting a government paycheck, from President all the way down to administrative support staff in the smallest municipality in the nation.

Of course, the one biggest difference is that you, the taxpayer, can't immediately fire these employees for poor performance. Imagine how different your last unsatisfactory interaction with a taxpayer paid employee would have been if you could fire those who don't meet your level of expectation. Sure, you're probably thinking, "I can fire the elected ones." But, the thing is that particularly type of firing is a delayed action. The underlying reason the individual is losing their job is not apparent in that type of firing.

It's kind of like housebreaking a dog. If you scold the dog after the fact for eliminating in the home, it will not equate the reprimand with the actual act of relieving itself in the home. For that to happen, you actually have to catch the dog in the act and show your displeasure. Same thing with elected folks on the taxpayer payroll. When they get reprimanded (read: the boot out of the door), they think it has something to do with changes in the political wind. They rarely think it is because of their repeated poor job performance.

Ok, so our system isn't perfect. No news on that front. But, the system we've had in place is still better than any other around the world. Or, at least it had been. There wasn't immediate accountabilty, but until recently there had been some semblance of accountability. For example, until recently, our employees felt obligated to provide us information when we requested. An obligation that is legally mandated.

I said until recently. Now, it appears even that level of accountability is going by the wayside:

Days after a spokesman for Gov. Bill Richardson told a TV reporter that it was “not appropriate or dignified” to identify the 59 political appointees who are losing their jobs, Richardson’s office has formally denied a newspaper reporter’s request for that information.

The Santa Fe New Mexican’s Kate Nash didn’t get much – including anything that identifies the people who are being laid off – in response to her request.

Reporters, who happen to be taxpayers as well, have historically taken the role of internal audit committee for our, the taxpayers, business. In other words, they've looked out for our interests. However, if we allow them to be shut out and denied information about who is or isn't working for us at a given time, then we stop having any sort of control over our government employees and officials. When this happens, those folks no longer work for us as public servants. Instead, we work for them in a manner very reminiscent of feudal fiefdoms in days of old.

I don't know about you, but the idea of becoming a serf is not particularly appealing to me.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bode Aviation Video

The surveillance video of Bode Aviation's negotiations with the City of Albuquerque [hat tip: Peter St. Cyr], and the role Mayor Martin Chavez plays "messing with" contracts is unnerving at the least. Watch the video, and then ask yourself, "How does this guy get elected term after term?"

Bode Surveillance- Short Version from Richard M. Romero on Vimeo.

Why isn't this more front and center in the campaign? Oh right, publicly funded campaigns don't allow the campaigns enough resources to get the truth out. Explain to me again how this has improved the process?

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A New Kind of Double Dipping

Ever wonder why we have an economic crisis in New Mexico? Sure, it has to do with the spending spree of the Richardson Administration and the rubber-stamping legislature. But, the truth is that's only one part of the equation. Corruption and unethical conduct are undoubtedly costing the taxpayers million annually as well.

I'm not just talking about pay to play politics that have seen tens of millions in taxpayer "investment" funds gp up in smoke. I'm thinking about the low level corruption that is costing us a half million here and half a million there.

For example, let's just look at how much the taxpayers are paying for the PRC position held by Jerome Block, Jr. The part-time job pays $90,000 per year. In addition to that $90,000, the indicted Commissioner Block was able to grab $100,000 from taxpayers to fund his campaign:

Block Jr. told the Santa Fe New Mexican he won’t resign from his $90,000-a-year job representing northern New Mexico on the powerful regulatory board.

“I’m elected, I’m here, I’m not going anywhere,” he was quoted as saying before closing his office door to the reporter.

The New Mexican broke the story via Twitter earlier today.

The charges stem from Block Jr.’s publicly funded campaign for office last year. According to the Albuquerque Journal, Block, who is in his first term on the PRC, paid a band to play at a rally that never took place. Block later had to pay a fine and return $10,000 of the more than $100,000 in taxpayer money he received for his campaign after admitting to filing false reports.

So, right off the bat, we know that the indicted commissioner position costs $190,000. Of course, that's only the start of it. You've got to factor in the time spent from those working for the Secretary of State's and Attorney General's offices:

A Complaint to the Secretary of State: On September 24, campaign finance advocacy group Common Cause issued a formal complaint to the New Mexico Secretary of State regarding Block's apparent violations of the Voter Action Act in San Miguel county.

Attorney General Involvement: On September 27, the Attorney General stated that an investigation into Block Jr. lying about finances used in San Miguel County is on the "front burner."

That's got be worth at least another $150,000 when you factor in the loaded hourly rate of those involved in the investigation and ultimate prosecution of the case. Then, of course, you've got the taxpayer paid employees who were able to supplement their income with the taxpayer funded resources from the indicted commissioner Block's campaign:

Just Who Ain't on the Payroll?: On October 14, the first general election campaign finance reports for the district 3 PRC race indicated that Block Jr. payed Cordy Medina for "mailout assistance." What's the problem? Medina is the State Attorney General's consitutent services coordiantor--the person who picks up the phone when citizens call to complain about, um, political candidates having suspicious payrolls.

This part-time double dipping wasn't limited to the Attorney General's office. PRC staff also found a way to get on the PRC campaign payroll:

Campaign finance reports filed with the Secretary of State's Office show Block paid [Larry L. Lujan] Lujan at least $2,000 last year for campaign coordination. Lujan has previously said he campaigned for Block solely on weekends and on his own personal time.

So, that's another couple of grand. But, let's not forget the telephone bills:

Lujan and Block also exchanged more than 300 phone calls on Lujan's state cell phone during a 10-month period after Block launched his campaign.

PRC officials investigated the calls after they were reported by the Journal and determined Lujan inappropriately used his phone, though the agency didn't disclose whether Lujan was disciplined.

Anyone want to bet that those 300 telephone calls were not restricted to weekend and personal hour times? Yeah, I didn't think so.

Which means, we've got:
  • more lost work hours paid for by the taxpayers
  • on a taxpayer paid phone
  • to a campaign funded by taxpayers
  • for a position which is charged to taxpayers
  • which is investigated by and prosecuted by taxpayer employed staff
So, where does this leave us? Well, if you factor in Mr. Lujan's latest promotion, we're over $500,000 in waste.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

A World Turned Upside Down

Today marks the eighth anniversary of the attacks of 9/11. It is a day that should always serve as a reminder of two irrefutable facts:

  1. There are people in this world that hate America and the freedom it represents, and would do anything to destroy us.
  2. There are unsung heroes that everyday put their lives on the line to safeguard our communities.

Let me first acknowledge that second point by thanking the firefighters and police officers that step up everyday when no one is looking to protect and to serve. Thanks for what you do.

As to the first point, I can't help but be concerned about the direction our country is heading. On 9/11, the terrorists failed to destroy America, but since that time, a greater and greater number of those elected to lead our country have made, and are making, decisions that might well accomplish what the terrorists failed to do those eight years ago.

On a state level, we've seen indictment after indictment against our elected officials. Yet, rather than outrage, the citizens of the state seem willing to accept this as just the way things are. Even the recent fleeing from the scene of an accident by the Governor and his staff is just seen as just another news story:

The state's boating law says the operator of a vessel has 48 hours to provide information about an accident, and Condit complied with that, according to Jodi McGinnis Porter, spokeswoman for the energy and minerals agency.

Porter said Fay, the boat's owner, stayed at the scene and provided information to investigators, while Richardson, Condit, Miller and the state police officers left. They were not required to remain there, she said.

What's been largely missing from this discussion is not what is legal, but what is ethical. Legally, the perpetrators of the accident may not have been required to remain at the scene of the accident, but ethically, they should have remained.

Think about it.

There are only two reasons that the Governor and his staff fled. First, there was alcohol involved, and it would have been determined that a crime had been committed. Or second, they wanted to avoid the unfolding public relations nightmare that would have been made worse by having their pictures taken at the scene of the accident. I'm reasonably confident that if cell phone records were checked, one of the individuals in the party will be shown to have called for advice on whether or not they "had" to remain at the scene of the accident.

There is always a lot of gratuitous talk about the need to legislate ethics in this state. But, this is just another example of why you can't legislate ethics. Unethical people will act in their own self-interests, and the shrewdly unethical will do it in within the letter of the law. You probably also noticed that not one Democrat running to lead our state in 2010 condemned the blatantly unethical act committed by Governor Richardson and his staff.

Speaking of speaking out, Representative Joe Wilson is in trouble for breaking with decorum by shouting out that the President of the United States was lying to the American people while giving his healthcare address. Yet, there was much truth to Representative Wilson's accusations:

A GAO report finds that illegal immigrants constitute more than one-third of all Medicaid-funded pregnancies in California. Elsewhere in the country, the GAO found: "From 1992 to 1995 in Texas, the number of Medicaid-funded births to undocumented alien mothers more than doubled, while the total number of births remained fairly stable." People respond to economic incentives. Even when the people and the incentives are illegal.

Missouri attorney general Chris Koster has estimated that one in ten Medicaid claims is fraudulent. How much of that fraud diverts money to illegal immigrants? Nobody knows for sure and don't ask the state bureaucrats for help in finding out: When the federal government passed new rules demanding better documentation of legal residency for Medicaid recipients, the states resisted. In California, officials representing the state's Medicaid program, Medi-Cal, wanted to use such lamentably inadequate documentation as insurance records and school report cards in place of passports and birth certificates. We are entitled to question their motives, and their prudence.

So, Representative Wilson could use a visit from Miss Manners. But he is telling the truth, and President Obama is not.

Of course, President Obama's dishonesty on this topic is not limited to the question of whether or not illegal immigrants will benefit from the healthcare changes being proposed. There were numerous inaccuracies his speech. For example, take this:

OBAMA: "Nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have."

THE FACTS: That's correct, as far as it goes. But neither can the plan guarantee that people can keep their current coverage. Employers sponsor coverage for most families, and they'd be free to change their health plans in ways that workers may not like, or drop insurance altogether. The Congressional Budget Office analyzed the health care bill written by House Democrats and said that by 2016 some 3 million people who now have employer-based care would lose it because their employers would decide to stop offering it.

In the past Obama repeatedly said, "If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan, period." Now he's stopping short of that unconditional guarantee by saying nothing in the plan "requires" any change.

Considering how much effort goes into writing a presidential speech, these careful manipulations of the English language cannot be considered accidental. Again, we deal with a question of ethics. Is it ethical to put something forward as factually truthful that is actually intended to deceive?

Of course, these unethical manipulations of language are not limited to our elected officials. They are also being used by "community organizations" to confuse the issues. Consider this taken directly from the ACORN site:

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now does not apply for nor does it receive any federal grants.

ACORN has had contracts with other nonprofit organizations to perform work on projects which received federal grant support.

In illegal circles, what ACORN is describing is called money laundering. Organized crime has been doing this for years. In the case of organized crime, dollars from an illegal activity, take prostitution as an example, are flowed through a third party entity before making its way to a "legitimate" business. In this way, the business has deniability about the illegal source of the funds. Much the same way as ACORN has deniability about the federal source of its funding.

As long as we're on the topic of federal funding, ACORN and prostitution, you might want to consider this:

Two staff members of the Baltimore office of ACORN were fired Thursday after they were captured on hidden camera appearing to give advice on evading tax laws to a man and woman posing as a pimp and a prostitute.

The video depicts a man and a scantily dressed female partner visiting the Charles Village office of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, where they appear to ask two employees about how to shield their work from state and federal tax requirements. The supposed pimp also appears to ask the employees how to conceal underage girls from El Salvador brought into the country illegally to work for him.

"If they don't have Social Security numbers, you don't have to worry about them," the employee says.

If you haven't seen the videos, I strongly urge you to watch them. It's like watching an SNL skit from when SNL was actually funny.

Of course, the only problem is that this isn't a comedy skit. It's actually real. Now, factor in the economy, our increasingly uncompetitive educational system, the ever-growing size of government, and the you'll see why I'm so concerned that America may be doing to herself what the terrorists failed to do on 9/11.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Avoid Jobs that Require Multitasking

Looks like multitasking isn't all it's cracked up to be:
A new study suggests that people who often do multiple tasks in a variety of media -- texting, instant messaging, online video watching, word processing, Web surfing, and more -- do worse on tests in which they need to switch attention from one task to another than people who rarely multitask in this way.

Specifically, heavy multitaskers are more easily distracted by irrelevant information than those who aren't constantly in a multimedia frenzy, according to the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
That's it, looks like no more checking my email on the golf course. Apparently, multitasking is also detrimental for those in politics:
Last spring, a judge ordered that [state Public Regulation Commissioner Carol] Sloan's wages as a PRC member be garnisheed so a bank could recover more than $39,000 from the commissioner. The garnishment came more than three years after a judge ordered Sloan to pay the judgment.

Another financial services company is now seeking to garnishee Sloan's wages to recover a judgment of more than $1,000. A judge ordered her to pay that money in 2005.

Sloan filed for bankruptcy in 1997 to discharge debts owed at that time. She listed liabilities of more than $40,000 and assets of nearly $5,400, according to an Internet service that compiles bankruptcy data.

The commissioner, who earns $90,000 in the job, couldn't be reached for comment on the bad-debt lawsuits and bankruptcy.

She's not alone

As you probably know, Sloan is part of a bigger personnel problem at the PRC.

Commissioner Jerome Block Jr. was indicted in April on embezzlement, conspiracy and other charges related to the finances of his campaign last year. Also charged in the case is his father, former PRC member Jerome Block Sr. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Two years ago, a jury awarded a woman more than $840,000 in a sexual-harassment lawsuit against a third PRC member, David King. Taxpayers footed the bill.

Obviously, a bunch of multitaskers.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Ethics Reform Doesn't Work for Criminals

Advocating ethics reform legislation to solve the problem of criminality among our elected officials is just foolishness. It's a blatant bait and switch tactic by politicians who don't have the backbone to blow the whistle on their own:

The state Democratic Party’s vice chair, Annadelle Sanchez, declined to talk about the potential political fallout from the corruption scandals, but released this statement:

“The people of New Mexico deserve a government that is open, honest and transparent. Good government is not a partisan issue, so instead of pointing fingers, Democrats and Republicans should work together to bring about the type of reform our system needs. I’m proud of Democrats like Diane Denish and (state Auditor) Hector Balderas that are leading that fight.”

Richardson has not released a statement about the indictments. Denish on Wednesday renewed calls for ethics reform, but her office said the Democrats’ likely 2010 gubernatorial nominee was not available for comment Thursday on the political aspect of the indictments.

First things first, Hector Balderas, our State Auditor, is leading the fight to get criminals behind bars. He seems to be doing his job well and with little concern whether the elected criminals have an R or D attached to their name.

As much as I personally think Lt. Governor Diane Denish is a nice lady who has done a lot for New Mexico through her association with the Daniels Fund and other not-for-profit organizations, when it comes to leading the charge for rooting out corrupt politicians, she gets an "F" on her report card.

Let's face the facts:
  • She was the Chairman of the Democratic Party at a time when many corrupt political criminals were at their strongest.
  • She has been silent about the rampant pay-to-play of the Richardson administration
  • She has not stepped and asked for an investigation into a single incident of corruption
Do I think Lt. Governor Denish has been robbing New Mexicans like many of her colleagues? No. But, nor do I think she has stood up for us either. "Renewed calls for ethics reforms" is nothing but smoke and mirrors designed to take our eye off the ball.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

North Koreans Come to the Rescue

You've got to love the timing of the thing. Conspiracy theorists could have a field day. Former Democratic Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron is indicted on 50-counts for laundering millions of dollars, and Governor Bill Richardson holds "productive talks" with the North Koreans.

I can't help, but feel the need to take a trip down memory lane back to April 30, 2007:
Oh, and it looks like the newly elected Democratic Party Chairman, Brian Colon, is already going to have his hands full trying to keep some folks from getting back into office:
Former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron wants to be lieutenant governor.

You might be thinking that she’s looking to get on a ticket in 2010. Vigil-Giron, however, is thinking about next year.

She told me that during the Democrats’ convention in Las Cruces today.

Rebecca Vigil-Giron back in office. It's like a dream come true for Republicans. Remember, this is the lady whose fiscal mismanagement of the Secretary of State's office was so severe that it resulted in a Richardson job offer being revoked put on hold:

Richardson said he wasn't aware the shortfall was that big.

"I was not aware of the size of the deficit," he said. "I was aware there was some expenses that hadn't been paid but when I learned that was $3 million, I think it's important we get all the facts and we make sure a proper audit is done."

The governor's announcement [regarding Rebecca Vigil-Giron's appointment being put on hold] followed Sen. Shannon Robinson, an Albuquerque Democrat, yanking his sponsorship of an administration bill this week that would create the Media Arts and Entertainment Department, of which the film museum would be a part. Robinson was the only Senate sponsor.

House Republicans tried but failed to stop a similar bill in that chamber.

Even with his call for an audit, the governor defended Vigil-Giron.

He said she "has served the state, she's been an elected official, she's contributed to state government in New Mexico and I believe she deserves an opportunity to stay in state government."

Of course, you've got to love the Governor's logic in that last paragraph, "[Vigil-Giron] contributed to state government in New Mexico and I believe she deserves an opportunity to stay in state government."

Hmm, I wonder... let's try that a few different ways...
"Manny Aragon contributed to state government in New Mexico and I believe he deserves an opportunity to stay in state government."

"Robert Vigil contributed to state government in New Mexico and I believe he deserves an opportunity to stay in state government."

Michael Montoya contributed to state government in New Mexico and I believe he deserves an opportunity to stay in state government."
That about sums up the problem with New Mexico politics. Now, I'm sure that the timing of the Governor's meeting with the North Koreans was just a fortunate coincidence.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Denish Proposes Secession from the Union

Okay, maybe that title is a little misleading. Lt Governor Denish didn't actually advocate for New Mexico to secede from the Union at a recent NAIOP meeting, but she did say:
"I want a New Mexico where a business succeeds or fails based on the quality of its products ... not just because they have connections to certain lobbyists," Denish told about 300 people attending a lunch sponsored by NAIOP, a commercial real estate group.
Heck, I want a nation where that is the case. Of course, that doesn't seem to be happening. Insurance companies, banks and automobile manufacturers top the list of those whose business continue because they have connections to certain lobbyists.

Actually, in all fairness to the lobbyists, the problem is the politicians who will trade votes for favors or contributions, not the lobbyists who advocate for or against a given company or issue. There are lobbyists on both sides of every issue. They are part of the process, not the problem. Let's be real here.

As to the relevance to New Mexico pay-to-play scandals, it's a little too little, a little too late as far as I'm concerned. The Lt. Governor spoke up when the Governor pinched her leg, but until recently, never said a word about the rampant pinching of contributors in return for lucrative state contracts.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Doing the Bare Minimum

Scandal after scandal is rocking the state. You would think that as a result public officials would go out of their way to make sure that government is operating as transparently as humanly possible. But, when it comes to the Albuquerque Public Schools, that doesn't seem to be the case:
School board president Marty Esquivel said APS is in compliance with open records laws, which do not require postings on the Internet.

"This is probably a case where open government laws have not caught up with the technology of today," said Esquivel, an attorney who works with the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government.

The auditor said APS was violating the state Open Meetings Act by failing to post updated board and committee meeting minutes on the Web site.

Esquivel said state law requires only that minutes be made available upon request.
State law may only require that minutes be made available upon request, but the current level of corruption investigations mandates that if a public organization wants to appear on the up and up, then they should go out of their way to provide open government. And, to be perfectly honest, posting minutes on a website wouldn't take someone more than 15 minutes.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Governor's Transparency Policy

Wow! Everyone's on record of late claiming complete ignorance regarding fees paid to third-party marketers. Then, this comes to light.
The bottom line is this: In the wake of a corruption scandal at the state Treasurer's Office in 2005, a policy was drafted that called for public disclosure of fees paid to so-called third-party marketers on government investment deals.

A document that became known as the "Governor's Transparency Policy" — put together for Gov. Bill Richardson — recommended disclosure of all the fees.

That didn't happen. The policy was never adopted, not even by the State Investment Council, which Richardson chairs and controls.
I believe that's what they call a smoking gun.

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Just Another Typical Day of Enchantment

Well, it looks like just another typical news day in the Land of Enchantment. Let's see, we've got a report that one former State Senator has entered prison for his part robbing New Mexicans of $4.2 million:
Former state Senate President Pro Tem Manny Aragon has begun serving his 67-month prison term in Colorado.
Then, we've got an indictment that has been two years in the making of the former executive director of Region III Housing Authority with ties to current House Speaker Ben Lujan:
In 2003 and 2004, State Investment Council bought $5 million in bonds issued by the authority to finance its mission to buy and renovate homes that are sold to low-income buyers.

Money from home sales was used by the housing authority to pay operational expenses including $875,000 that went to Gallegos as salary, retirement benefits and a loan.
The bonds defaulted, and the State Investment Council estimated losses to taxpayers at around $4 million.
Public investigations found, among other things:
  • In sales of 40 properties, the money received from buyers wasn't used to pay off the bonds.
  • The authority withdrew bond money to purchase five properties it already owned.
  • The authority withdrew $880,000 to purchase 16 properties but paid only $280,000 for them.
A series of reports by the Journal's Thomas J. Cole also found that the housing authority allowed a state judge and an aide to House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, to live rent free in authority homes.
And, to round out the headlines, it looks like the results of the investigation into Governor Richardson and his inner circle has arrived on the desk of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder:
The New Mexico Finance Authority has been part of the federal investigation after awarding a hefty contract — with questionable procedures that included adding points and changing the initial rankings — to California-based CDR Financial Inc.
CDR, which also was awarded a sole-source, no-bid escrow contract, contributed about $100,000 to Richardson's political committees around the time of the contract awards.
The contract award in 2004 was for CDR to advise the Finance Authority on the state $1.6 billion GRIP transportation bond program.
Among the former Finance Authority officials interviewed by the FBI is former NMFA Executive Director David Harris.
After CDR won the New Mexico business in 2004, CDR officials paid for dinner and Lakers basketball tickets in Los Angeles for Harris and former Richardson chief of staff Dave Contarino.
Richardson has said no one from his administration acted improperly.
Of course, the Governor would say no one has acted improperly. This is New Mexico. As it has been noted, it's just "the way we do business." Although, I, for one, am hoping the voters have just about had enough.

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Monday, June 08, 2009

Lines are Becoming Blurred

State government in the Land of Enchantment is mired in corruption with one investigation being launched after another. The lack of indictments and swift action is beginning to take a toll. Now, every incident is being viewed as a pay to play scenario:
"Hi Commish! I know you're getting pressure from our friend to resolve Mr. Atencio's issue. I know it is taking a while but it by no means (is) being ignored. It is being redesigned completely to address his concerns."

That e-mail from a top New Mexico Department of Transportation official has helped reignite an inquiry into whether an Española businessman whose property is needed for a $68 million road project received special treatment from the state.

DOT officials redesigned a portion of the planned reconstruction of U.S. 84-285 last fall after receiving complaints from restaurant owner Luis Atencio. Atencio is one of more than 40 property owners whose northern New Mexico land is needed for project right of way. So far, he has refused to sell.

State Transportation Secretary Gary Girón asked for the internal investigation on May 26 after e-mails surfaced showing that DOT second-in-command Rebecca Montoya and Jim Franken, vice chairman of the state Transportation Commission, got involved in Atencio's right-of-way fight earlier this year. The "Hi Commish" e-mail was sent from Montoya to Franken on Jan. 5.

This is the second time in six months the DOT's office of inspector general has looked into the allegation of special treatment.
It is noted in the article that Mr. Atencio made significant contributions to both the Governor's presidential campaign and Congressman Ben Ray Lujan's campaign. But, here is the thing. Pay to play, works this way. An individual makes a contribution, and then receives a special favor in return. That would be criminal.

However, if the same individual seeks and receives constituent service, and then turns around and makes a political contribution, that would not be an illegal activity. The problem we have is that since so much pay to play corruption in New Mexico is occurring without prosecution that the lines are now becoming blurred.

One of the unintended consequences of not prosectuing criminals in government is that before long, elected officials and government employees are going to have an excuse to insulate themseleves from everyday citizens for fear of appearing to act in improperly.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Passive-Aggressive Approach to Governing

The Santa Fe Reporter has a good article (ok, maybe I'm partial to articles that quote me) on Governor Richardson's attempt to avoid criticism by pocket vetoing several important bills.
Nevertheless, there are common threads among the pocket vetoed bills: oversight, transparency and executive branch autonomy, particularly regarding health care.

Sen. Steven Neville, R-San Juan, had no illusions about what would happen to SB 460, his bill to strip Richardson’s control of the State Investment Council and create more oversight.

“The day it was passed, I figured it would be vetoed,” Neville tells SFR. “Most of us who were involved with the bill pretty well felt that the governor would not want to lose that control over the Investment Council.”

In an April 22 press release, Neville demanded Richardson explain the pocket veto in light of allegations of “insiders” kickbacks from the SIC for steering contracts.

“I’ve had no official word at all from the governor’s office,” Neville says. “That’s the beauty of the pocket veto. They don’t have to comment either way.”
With all of the scandals hitting the media regarding state investments, you've got to wonder how Governor Richardson thinks he can get away with pocket vetoes?

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sole Sourcing Off-The-Shelf Lawsuits

Just when you think the pay-to-play scandals in New Mexico can't get any worse, they do. Apparently, flowers are not the only things that bloom during the spring season in New Mexico.
Last week brought news that Governor Bill Richardson's campaign and political action committees received nearly $200,000 from money managers and brokers who were seeking access to the state's multibillion dollar pension funds.
Okay, I know, old news. But, this same editorial takes a deeper look at the ethically questionable behavior coming out of the Attorney General's office. Mind you, we were hopeful that when pay-for-access AG Patricia Madrid left office, things would get better. But, it now looks like the players may change, but the game remains the same.
As for Mr. King, he is underselling his political talents. Campaign records show that in the month before his 2006 election, his campaign received $50,000 from Houston lawyer Kenneth Bailey and Mr. Bailey's previous law firm in two $25,000 installments, one of which came within a week of Election Day.
And, what does $50,000 buy these days?
However, you have to wonder just how vital this particular lawsuit is, since it was marketed to New Mexico and many other state AGs as an off-the-shelf product by the Bailey firm.
It would seem it is the going price to bring win the right to sue in the name of the State. When law firms are able to buy the right to sue companies on behalf of the state in exchange for a political contribution. We're all in trouble.

Now, in all fairness, some of you may think I'm jumping to conclusions here. These campaign contributions, and the resulting "gift" to the law firm may just be coincidental. For those of you feel this way, I'd suggest you look no further than Attorney General Gary King's own analysis regarding appearances:
"There's an old saying that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then its probably a duck," say AG King. "And I think we know a duck when we see one."
Well, I guess duck hunting season is starting a little earlier this year..

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

A New Worst of List for New Mexico Counties

Transparency was one topic that dominated debate during this recent legislative session. It took many forms. There was the question of whether or not to webcast. The was the question of whether or not to audiocast. There was the defeat of a bill that would have provided a searchable budget online for anyone to search. Now, there is the question of whether or not Governor Richardson will back away from his promise to sign into law a bill that opens conference committees.

Let's face it, the majority of New Mexico's elected officials prefer that we don't see them "making the sausage." Apparently, this desire to operate under a veil of secrecy is not limited to state government. The Sunshine Review just completed a review of every county website in the country, and guess what they found:
This table shows both the percentage of counties in each state with websites, and the average transparency rating each state received. Averages are calculated by adding up the total number of "yeses" received, divided by the number of counties with websites.

So far, Arizona's county websites have received the highest average rating of 6.533. Not only that, but 100% of it's counties actually have websites. New Mexico fared the worst with an average rating of only 1.222.

Another worst of of list ranking for the Land of Enchantment. Is there really any excuse for this? How many corruption cases do we need before we say enough is enough?

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Don't Hide from Your Record

It seems like nearly every election cycle a political candidate is caught lying to one of the state's newspapers about criminal convictions in their past. Despite the embarrassment that occurs when they are inevitably caught in a lie, it is sad to say that many of those who have criminal convictions - and more importantly lie about them - in their past go on to win their elections [side note: I can think of at least two from this past election cycle].

Well, now it looks like two legislators, both defense attorneys, want to make it easier for convicted criminals to get elected to office without the burden of their past criminal convictions (subscription):
If two criminal defense lawyers serving in the Legislature get their way, a lot of New Mexico ex-cons wouldn't have to worry about their rap sheets following them around the rest of their lives.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, and Rep. Antonio "Moe" Maestas, D-Albuquerque, are pushing bills that would allow judges to wipe away court and police records of offenders who complete sentences for certain crimes and aren't charged with new crimes for a certain period of time.

The bills are not identical, but under one or the other offenses that could be expunged range from petty crimes like shoplifting, which could disappear after one year, to DWIs after ten years. Records of most violent felonies that don't involve death, sex crimes or weapons could also be expunged after ten years. Domestic violence arrests and convictions would be eligible for expungement.
This is an absurd bill. Yes, people do stupid things in their lives, and some might even result in a criminal record. This is especially true when people are young. However, the strength of a person's character comes not from hiding from their past mistakes, but from owning those mistakes and never making them again. Heck, if a man can get elected President of the United States without his DWI conviction being expunged, what possible rationale can we have for expunging public records.

In other news, federal investigations continue to move forward and ethics bills are still to be pushed through the legislature. Also, the "
brother of disgraced political heavyweight Manny Aragon to five years in prison for his part in a drug-smuggling operation. " But wait, it gets better:
In a sentencing memorandum, the U.S. Attorney's Office noted that Charles Aragon was sentenced to three years in prison after his 1978 conviction for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. In late 1990, five years after parole ended for the earlier conviction, he became part of the Mexican Mafia and operated a large-scale drug trafficking organization that moved more than 22,000 pounds of marijuana over several years through the U.S. In 1992, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in that conspiracy.
Just think... he twice managed to go ten years without getting caught. I guess some legislators would argue he should have had his record expunged because he was a changed man.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Personal Character Trumps Ethics Legislation

You cannot legislate ethical behavior. I know. I'm beginning to sound like a broken record on this subject. But, it's true. You might recall that Governor Bill Richardson, our Governor who is currently under federal investigation for the rampant pay-to-play practices of his administration, convened an ethics task force some time ago to come up with recommendations on how to create an ethical government. Yeah, the irony here is overwhelming.

You might also recall that as part of the "solution package" for making government more ethical there was a recommendation to put legislators on the payroll. Maybe, you even remember the rationale provided by one former Governor:
Carruthers said the panel may discuss something he has long favored - a stipend for lawmakers, who are unpaid although they get expense reimbursement.

When legislators are uncompensated, "there's always one or two that might feel it necessary to take some compensation in another way,'' said Carruthers, who is dean of business at New Mexico State University.
Now, I completely disagree with Governor Carruthers that giving unethical people a salary is going to make them walk the straight and narrow. In fact, if we think of all of the people who have been thrown in jail, or who are under investigation, for unethical and illegal behavior, we will find that most of them were pulling down a rather nice salary at the time.

With that said, it does look like Governor Carruthers was dead on when he stated,
"there's always one or two that might feel it necessary to take some compensation in another way." Take Senate Judiciary Chairman Cisco McSorley for example:
Essentially, Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, is taking the per diem and other reimbursements he is entitled to from the state for travel as a lawmaker, then also reimbursing himself for additional travel expenses out of his campaign fund.

But, wait, it gets better...

McSorley, according to the Journal, “said he has done nothing wrong and that he doesn’t consider the per diem he receives from the state to be an allowance for lodging, meals and incidental expenses.

“That is supposed to be trying to make up for what I lost at home” while away from work, the Journal quoted McSorley as saying.

You've got to be kidding me. Senator McSorley is Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and he is a lawyer. Which leaves us only two possible conclusions with regard to his statement that per diem is intended to replace lost wages:

  1. he is inept.


  2. he is unethical.

How do we limit it to just these two possibilities? Simple. Let's look at number one first. The New Mexico Constitution is crystal clear on the purpose of per diem, and how it is to be calculated:

Sec. 10. [Compensation of members.]

Each member of the legislature shall receive:

A. per diem at the internal revenue service per diem rate for the city of Santa Fe for each day's attendance during each session of the legislature and the internal revenue service standard mileage rate for each mile traveled in going to and returning from the seat of government by the usual traveled route, once each session as defined by Article 4, Section 5 of this constitution;

B. per diem expense and mileage at the same rates as provided in Subsection A of this section for service at meetings required by legislative committees established by the legislature to meet in the interim between sessions; and
The same section of our state constitution is equally clear when it comes to additional types of compensation our legislators entitled to receive for providing legislative services:
C. no other compensation, perquisite or allowance. (As amended November 7, 1944, September 15, 1953, November 2, 1971, November 2, 1982 and November 5, 1996.)
That's right "no other compensation, perquisite or allowance" is permitted. Since paying legislators a salary has come up several times during Senator McSorley's tenure, it is can only be assumed that he is inept if he is unaware of these prohibitions. Alternately, if he is aware of these constitutional limitations, then that leaves us to conclude that he has been acting, at best, unethically.

So, which is it?

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rebecca Vigil-Giron and the Never-Ending Audit

Former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron, who incidentally remains on the taxpayer funded payroll, is back in the news again (subscription):
Lingering questions involving the expenditure of nearly $6.3 million for a voter education campaign by Vigil-Giron in 2004 and 2006 continues to impact the current administration, the state audit found.

"I'm still extremely concerned," Balderas told the Journal on Tuesday. "The overall fiscal management was called into question and our auditors were just not confident enough to give them a clean bill of health."
So, here's the first thing that is bugging me. We're in 2009, and we're still auditing $6.3 million that was expended beginning five years ago? Does that seem like it's taking a long time, or what?
Of course, the state isn't the only one who reviewed the books. The federal government conducted an audit and guess what they found?

A separate federal audit released last year couldn't account for more than $3 million of the $6.3 million paid by Vigil-Giron to media consulting firm A. Gutierrez and Associates.

Vigil-Giron's agency apparently made upfront payments to the consultant and didn't require detailed receipts for the work done.
Nice. I'm in advertising, and I can't imagine not having to account for half the money - to the tune of $3 million - I was given by a client for a media buy. Every time you place an ad in the media, you receive proof of performance (i.e. a notarized copy of the ads' air times, or in the case of a print, a copy of the actual printed ad). The only reason that documentation of proof of performance could not be provided is because the ad didn't run.
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission has said that some of the money might have to be reimbursed by the state.

Herrera said Tuesday that her office has proposed a measure to "release" taxpayers from having to repay the $6.3 million to the federal government.

"We are hopeful that the Legislature passes this bill," the statement said. "New Mexicans should be protected."
Oh that's just priceless. Someone please call up the Secretary of State office and explain where the government gets their money to our current Secretary of State Mary Herrera. Let her know that regardless of what bill the Legislature passes, it is taxpayers' money that will be used to satisfy that debt.
Among its findings, the state audit determined Vigil-Giron's office inappropriately used nearly $30,000 in federal voter education funds to enhance the agency's Web site.

Balderas said enhancing a Web site was "clearly not central to the HAVA (Help America Vote Act) mission."
Now, wait a minute. Something here just doesn't make sense. Vigil-Giron's office claims to have enhanced the agency website. Please, let's get real. Oh, and I think those auditors need to go back and review their work. As I recall, that $30,000 doesn't even come close to the amount that was spent on a worthless website:
That's right Ms. Vigil-Giron has had three years to get this system up and running without success. As our Secretary of State describes it, the problem is two-fold 1) the contractor has failed to meet the deadlines; and 2) there just wasn't enough money allocated. Of course, number two rings a little false when you realize that Vigil-Giron spent $2 million in 2004 on self-promoting television ads.

So, what has Ms. Vigil-Giron done about the contractor's failure to deliver? Has she demanded a refund? No. Has she sent a letter to the contractor demanding that they stop listing New Mexico as one of the "jurisdictions using
SOSKB?" No. Has she gone to the Attorney General and asked Patricia Madrid to file suit against this company to get back our taxpayer dollars? No. So, what has she done?
Using federal dollars earmarked for voter education, Vigil-Giron's office only last month signed a new $350,000 contract for completion of the system with the same North Carolina company she hired to do the job in 2003.
You read that correctly. Vigil-Giron's office has given the company another contract for $230,000 more than the first contract. Am I the only one who thinks this is nuts? Then again, maybe she is rewarding the company for failing to deliver a fully operational system. See, that actually makes sense. The company's failure to deliver has allowed Governor Richardson's representative the opportunity to say:
"It's a shame there are problems," Amanda Cooper, Richardson's campaign manager, said of the state's electronic filing program. "We want to file our campaign finance records in a way that people can search them."
Um, yeah... hindsight really is 20/20. I'm sure the Governor was just so upset that people were unable to search campaign finance records. Just think, if those campaign finance records had been searchable, the CDR scandal might have broke before he had a chance to run for President.

In fact, the Governor was so distraught (wink,wink, nudge, nudge) that he gave Ms. Vigil-Giron another taxpayer funded job. And, Governor Richardson's rationale at the time for making sure that this individual, mired in scandal, had another taxpayer funded position:
Even with his call for an audit, the governor defended Vigil-Giron.

He said she "has served the state, she's been an elected official, she's contributed to state government in New Mexico and I believe she deserves an opportunity to stay in state government."

I'd say she has contributed. Contributed to our debt. As to deserving to stay in state government, well, I guess she does deserve it... about as much Manny Aragon and Michael Montoya and Robert Vigil deserved to stay in state government.

I guess that's enough of that. Let's move on to other news. It looks like not all hiring freezes are created equal (subscription):

Three months ago, Gov. Bill Richardson froze pay increases and hiring at the departments and other agencies under his control as a means to help address the state's budget problems.

But there have been exceptions, both in hires and pay increases.

Richardson has made 16 appointments to exempt positions since the hiring and pay freeze took effect Nov. 15, according to data released Tuesday by the Department of Finance and Administration.

Those appointees are exempt from the protections of the classified employee system and serve at the pleasure of the governor.

The appointees include Geno Zamora, hired as a lawyer for the Economic Development Department at an annual salary of $87,000. He worked in the Governor's Office before making an unsuccessful bid for attorney general in 2006.

Other appointees include a new head for the Game and Fish Department, a division director at the Department of Cultural Affairs, a lawyer at the Department of Workforce Solutions and an administrator for Miners' Colfax Medical Center in Raton.

Hold the presses. What's that say in that last line? "A lawyer at the Department of Workforce Solutions" was among those hired. What is it about that gives me pause? Hmmm. Oh, I know:

Vigil-Giron, who now works for the state's Department of Workforce Solutions, dismissed the new state audit as politically motivated.

The Department of Workforce Soultions puts an attorney on the payroll. Rebecca Vigil-Giron works at the Department of Workforce Solutions. I'm sure it's all just some bizarre coincidence.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Kind of Hard to Say, " No." Don't You Think?

By now, you all know that I'm dead set against unnecessary ethics legislation that is pushed session after session. I prefer the convict-and-prosecute-the-criminals approach to passing feel good legislation that won't change a thing.

With that said, I can't imagine how those debating the ethics legislation could possibly say, "no" to the webcasting of their deliberations:
The New Mexico Independent is going to attempt to webcast Friday’s ethics reform hearing being held by the Senate Rules Committee. The big question is whether the powers-that-be will allow it to happen.
Kind of hard to make the case for passing ethics reform if you tell the people you don't want them to see what you're doing. Don't you think?

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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Tax the Rich - Not Me

It's kind of amusing that Democratic politicians love to campaign on a platform of "taxing the rich," but when push comes to shove, the rich ones don't like to pay their own taxes:
Former Sen. Tom Daschle, tapped by President Obama to lead his healthcare reform campaign, failed to pay more than $128,000 in taxes in the three years before Obama nominated him in December to head the Department of Health and Human Services.

The disclosure -- involving unreported income and the use of a car and driver provided to Daschle -- comes 2 1/2 weeks after Obama's choice to head the Treasury Department, Timothy Geithner, admitted that he had not paid about $43,000 in taxes.
I think someone should introduce a law that elected officials who advocate and pass higher taxes should be automatically audited, and if it is discovered they have failed to pay their taxes, the penalty should be 25 times that of an everyday citizen.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Representative Janice Arnold Jones Caught On Tape

Well, actually, not yet... But, it looks like on Monday you'll be able to catch Representative Janice Arnold-Jones on tape:
Arnold-Jones, an Albuquerque Republican, bought a webcam and set up her own Web site that will allow her to stream live video and audio over the Internet from the two committees on which she sits -- Taxation and Revenue and Voters and Elections. You can visit the Web site by clicking here.

She plans to begin broadcasting online when both committees meet for the first time -- tax and revenue Monday at 1:30 p.m. and voters and elections Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. The only remaining question is whether legislative leaders, including House Speaker Ben Lujan, will try to stop her.

I can't imagine the Speaker will try and stop her. My only hope is that in addition to streaming, it's recorded so that we have the option of watching according to our own schedule.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It Sure Would Take a Lot of Chutzpah

I can't help but wonder if Governor Bill Richardson will bring up a push for ethics reform (subscription) in his State of State address today:
It's a $1.7 million mystery.

Several people who might be in a position to clear it up say they don't know anything; others aren't talking.

It all plays out against the backdrop of an ongoing federal pay-to-play investigation that derailed Gov. Bill Richardson's nomination for U.S. commerce secretary.

The first chapter began in the fall of 2003, when Richardson was collecting money for his Moving America Forward political action committee and starting another related organization called the Moving America Forward Foundation.

Both were aimed at increasing voter participation among minorities.

But unlike the higher profile PAC, the foundation mostly operated under the radar. To date, the foundation has never publicly revealed who donated the more than $1.7 million that IRS filings show it raised in the 2004-07 tax years.

Because the foundation was formed as a "public charity," it is not legally required to publicly disclose individual contributors or say exactly how those tax-deductible contributions were spent.

The PAC operated under different rules and was required to make detailed public disclosures to the state.

The foundation's board of directors reads like a Who's Who of Hispanic leaders in Albuquerque and included several Richardson political advisers.

Two board members didn't return phone calls from the Journal. Three others told the Journal last week they had no real involvement with the organization and didn't know who its donors were.
It Sure Would Take a Lot of Chutzpah

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What's the Governor Trying to Hide?

I can't believe what I just read in a press release issued by the Senate Democrats:
Today I conveyed a request to the Governor asking that he reconsider his lack of support for the Senate Rules Committee's new confirmation process a process which reflects the deepening sensitivity to ethics and good governmental conduct in the State. Last year the Committee brought greater accountability and credibility to the confirmation procedure, said Senator Linda M. Lopez (D-Bernalillo-11), but our efforts were brought to a halt when the Governor ordered the Department of Public Safety to stop making appointee background checks available to the Committee.
What possible reason could the Governor have to keep the committee responsible for confirming appointments in the dark? Without checks, there are no balances.

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Bahrain Investors Collect NM Taxpayer Funds

Some people may be worrying about grand jury investigations, but whatever the grand jury finds is nothing compared to what the Rio Grande Foundation is likely to dig up:

Even some of the [State Investment Council's (SIC)] smallest acquisitions look questionable. Take for instance, its investment in Small Smiles. The SIC's 2007 annual report showed an investment of an unstated sum in this New Mexico company. By directly contacting the venture capital firm that handled this investment, the Rio Grande Foundation learned that about $500,000 New Mexico taxpayer dollars have been invested in Small Smiles. The SIC itself had not been able to answer this question.

Contrary to the SIC's annual report, Small Smiles, is not a New Mexico company. It is a national chain of low-income dental clinics owned by a bank in Bahrain. Furthermore, at the time half a million taxpayers dollars were going to help Arab investors, Small Smiles was being blasted in an Emmy Award winning investigative television series called "Drilling for Dollars."

Small Smiles clinics in the Washington, D.C. area were exposed for abusing children by strapping them to "papoose boards." Small Smiles had engaged in unethical billing practices. Parents came forward with complaints of unnecessary dental work being performed on their children without their consent.

Geez, forcing unnecessary procedures on children in order to line their pockets, it doesn't get more evil than that. As to the use of papoose boards to perform unnecessary dental work, okay, I was wrong it does get more evil.

Mind you, I'm the father of two young boys. My oldest needed to have a dental "appliance " installed at the age of four to correct a problem. It was not a fun experience for him, but I was there the entire time to hold his hand. I can't imagine how he would feel about me or the dentist if we had allowed him to be strapped into a papoose board. I'm thoroughly disgusted.

How is it that the SIC has had so many questionable (I'm being kind here) and ill-fated investments? Well, you might remember that it has been standard policy under the Richardson administration to fire those advisors who did not want to issue rubber stamp endorsements of shady (okay, sugar-coating is not really my style) deals that Governor Richardson wanted to see approved.

That's right, I said, "Deals that Governor Richardson wanted approved." After all, the Governor is the chairman of the SIC. Now, in light of all of the recent scandals, you may be wondering if the Governor has ever received any campaign contributions from anyone connected to Small Smiles.

Well, I'm glad you asked. As it turns out, the Chairman and CEO of the holding company for Small Smiles is Michael Lindley of Nashville, Tennessee. Mr. Lindley did indeed donate a $1,000 to our Governor's presidential campaign. He also gave a $1,000 to Congressman Ben Ray Lujan's campaign.

Of course, my guess is that our Speaker of the House Ben Lujan solicited the funds on his son's behalf. After all, other than the imprisoned former State Senator Manny Aragon, the only other elected official to recieve funds cycle after cycle from Small Smiles in New Mexico is Speaker of the House Lujan.

Now, I'm sure none of this is tied to pay-to-play in New Mexico. It's probably all just some strange coincidence.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Things That Don't Make Sense

Sometimes you encounter things that just don't make sense. Usually, they are lone encounters that leave you shaking your head and wondering. But, sometimes they come one after another.
Gary King announced today that he will support several ethics reform proposals in the upcoming legislative session, and Gov. Bill Richardson, whose administration is the subject of a federal pay-to-play investigation, promptly did the same.
Ok, let's state the obvious first. A Governor who has had to turn down a presidential cabinet appointment and retain a prominent attorney in light of the unethical pay-to-play conduct of his administration, has no business announcing his support for ethics reform. In a moment of rare candor on national television, that may come back to haunt him, Richardson admitted that donors have been able to buy "an edge" in his administration [a MUST READ ARTICLE]:
For his part, the governor, who declined to be interviewed, has maintained that campaign donations do not influence his decisions. In at least two cases, he canceled state contracts his political supporters had won after the deals became public. He also gave back a $10,000 contribution from a company that won a contract to provide health care to prisoners.

Yet in an interview on NBC in 2007, Mr. Richardson acknowledged that giving money to a politician gives the donor “a little bit of an edge.”
“I don’t give any extra access to somebody that contributes,” he said. “But I’ll remember that person, and I’ll say: ‘Jeez, that guy helped me. Maybe I can help them.’ ”
Of course, you can't conduct this style of government without the tacit consent of our top prosecutor. That's why our current Attorney General, like the one before him, should also not be making announcements regarding ethics reform proposals. Since being elected, Gary King has made a lot of noise about investigations, but any real law enforcement in the way of indictments has been sorely missing. If the Attorney General is not going to enforce the current laws on the books by putting criminals behind bars, then he has no business pushing a new set of laws.

Speaking of ridiculous new laws. Take a look at what the Farmington City Council is proposing:
The Farmington City Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to outlaw "high gravity beer" -- beer with an alcohol content of more than 7.9 percent -- and on a ban of selling "fortified" wine containing more than 14 percent alcohol in an effort to curb public drunkenness, the Farmington Daily Times reported.
Somebody please sit these folks down for a drink and explain the realities of life. A drunk is a drunk. We're talking about someone with a dependence on alcohol. They will drink until fully inebriated regardless of the alcohol content of a particular beverage.

Sometimes, you really have to wonder what these elected officials are drinking thinking.

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