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E-mail mess looks a lot like Richardson scandals

Heath Haussamen

Heath Haussamen

A company that donated to the governor’s campaign won a lucrative state contract after hiring a political insider who was communicating privately with at least one person in the governor’s inner circle before the contract was awarded. Think I’m talking about Bill Richardson? Think again.

While a candidate for governor in 2010, Susana Martinez worked hard to convince New Mexicans that state government was corrupt.

For example, former Gov. Bill Richardson and Lt. Gov. Diane Denish created “one of the most corrupt state governments in New Mexico history where ‘pay-to-play’ has become a household term,” Martinez wrote in a guest column for NMPolitics.net.

Martinez promised to do things differently.

“The acceptance of a culture of corruption will finally come to an end, and a new culture of zero tolerance and responsibility will be instilled in the Roundhouse as we once again serve the people we represent,” she wrote in that same column.

Well, we haven’t seen proof of actual corruption. But the appearance created by the recent revelation that Martinez insiders, including some staffers, have discussed public business using private e-mail accounts smacks of the same sort of activity that got Richardson in so much trouble.

The Downs deal

The most damning example yet was revealed Tuesday when the left-leaning Independent Source PAC released a new batch of e-mails it had obtained. The three e-mails, sent from attorney Pat Rogers to people close to Martinez, relate to the awarding of a contract for a 25-year lease at the state fairgrounds and were sent after the bidding process was complete but before the State Fair Commission approved the lease.

Rogers represented the Downs at Albuquerque, which had already been recommended and ultimately won the contract. Companies have the right to lobby for contracts, and there are lots of e-mails Rogers sent to Martinez officials’ government accounts, proving he did much of his communication through official channels.


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What’s unique in this instance is that Rogers sent the three e-mails to Deputy Chief of Staff Ryan Cangiolosi’s campaign e-mail account. Two of them also went to Martinez’s political adviser, Jay McCleskey, who is not a state employee.

In one e-mail, Rogers told Cangiolosi and McCleskey that a state fair commissioner who cried foul over the Downs at Albuquerque deal had copied an Albuquerque Journal reporter on an e-mail she sent to an official involved in the process.

“I need 5 minutes of your time, quickly, this am, now,” Rogers’ e-mail states.

As NMPolitics.net reported today, the Martinez administration claims the e-mails to Cangiolosi were “illegally intercepted” and he never received them. Regardless, the situation raises questions about what other off-the-record communications Rogers had with people close to Martinez about the Downs deal.

Why is that important? Rogers is a GOP insider. He’s the Republican National committeeman for New Mexico and a former general counsel for the state GOP. His client won the contract in question after giving at least $70,000 to Martinez’s 2010 campaign (it also gave $50,000 to Martinez’s opponent, Denish).

And now we have evidence that Rogers was communicating or attempting to communicate about the contract, using private e-mail, with a Martinez government staffer and her political adviser – people who have influence.

Martinez promised to be different

It’s true that we don’t know the full context of the e-mails, but the context doesn’t really matter. The point is this: A company that gave lots of money to Martinez’s 2010 campaign won a lucrative contract after hiring a GOP insider who was communicating privately about the contract, before it was awarded, with, at the very least, McCleskey – who Martinez has called “a top adviser.”

How is that different than what Richardson did?

There’s one important difference: There were too many situations like this in the Richardson years to track them all. We haven’t seen as many from Martinez. That’s an improvement.

But it appears that such situations are still occurring.

I’m not calling Martinez or her administration corrupt. We’ve not seen proof of actual graft. However, we usually didn’t see proof of actual pay-for-play in instances in which Richardson donors won state contracts. That didn’t stop Martinez from working to convince voters – successfully – that Richardson’s actions were actual corruption.

And she promised to be different.

Avoiding the appearance of impropriety

I understand that New Mexico is a small state and many of us have ties that create awkward ethical situations from time to time. We wear many hats. I’ve disclosed repeatedly that I’m friends with Bill McCamley, who is a candidate for a state House seat this year.

In an ideal world, that would mean I never cover McCamley’s races. But I don’t have the resources to pass an entire race off to someone else. So I do the next best thing – be fully transparent about the situation and let you hold me accountable for providing fair coverage.

Here’s another example of the lengths I believe those who have influence over the public debate have to go at times to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Awhile back I was cited for running a stop sign in Las Cruces. I didn’t believe I had run the stop sign, and considered contesting the ticket. I had every right to contest it.

But that would have meant pleading my case before one of two municipal judges, and I had written about both having run-ins with the Judicial Standards Commission. I didn’t want to create a situation in which, if I wrote positive stories about the judge, people would question the potential appearance of a quid pro quo: the dismissal of my ticket in exchange for more favorable coverage.

So I paid the fine.

Establishing that you have nothing to hide

I’m not saying Rogers shouldn’t represent a company seeking a state contract. That’s his choice. But if he’s going to do it, he’d better make damn sure the situation is as transparent as possible. He should know that, given that he is on the board of the N.M. Foundation for Open Government and one of the best government transparency lawyers in the state. All communications should be through official channels – to government e-mail accounts, for example – so there’s a public record. Creating a public record establishes that you have nothing to hide.

Independent Source PAC’s Michael Corwin told me that, in response to a records request, he received “a whole bunch” of e-mails that Rogers sent to Martinez officials’ government accounts during the lease process. That’s great. It’s what should have happened with every e-mail. The fact that it wasn’t raises further questions about why Rogers sent some to private addresses.

McCleskey’s request for information from the Public Education Department, which also recently came to light, creates a similarly negative appearance. McCleskey first made the request verbally to public information officer Larry Behrens. Behrens sent his initial response from his personal e-mail account to McCleskey. The personal e-mail accounts of high-raking Martinez administration officials were copied on the response.

That creates the appearance that the request was to be off the books – an appearance that was compounded by the fact that Behrens separated union teachers from non-union teachers for McCleskey before sending him a list of teachers’ e-mail addresses.

That apparently wasn’t what McCleskey wanted, and his consulting business later filed a formal, written request for teachers’ addresses and received a formal denial.

McCleskey should have used such formal channels from the start.

It’s not because McCleskey isn’t allowed to pick up the phone and request documents. McCleskey, like anyone else, is entitled to request information from government, and the Inspection of Public Records Act allows verbal requests. But McCleskey should instead make written, official requests to create public records and establish that he’s using formal channels, not insider status, to get records.

Martinez’s next step

It’s possible Martinez wasn’t aware of Rogers’ e-mails to people close to her about the state fairgrounds lease. And Behrens’ response to McCleskey using his personal e-mail was sent to Martinez’s susana2010.com address that her administration says was compromised, so it’s possible she never saw it.

Other e-mails that came to light recently show that Martinez was discussing Corrections Department business with staffers using a political action committee e-mail account.

Martinez took a positive step last week by ordering state government employees to use state e-mail when conducting official business – an order that apparently also applies to herself. Now she needs to take the next step and direct others around her, such as McCleskey and Rogers, to use official channels when they communicate with her administration about official business.

Otherwise, the appearance of special treatment for insiders created by these e-mails – the very same appearance Martinez correctly criticized Richardson for creating – will remain.

This commentary has been updated to clarify that Rogers sent his e-mails after the bidding process was complete but before the contract was awarded. An earlier version incorrectly stated that he sent them before the bidding process was complete.

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13 comments so far. Scroll down to submit your own comment.

  1. I see the point here, but how is this any different than if a public official picked up the phone and made a call to someone instead of emailing them from their public account?  What if they are driving in their car and talking to someone, does that have to be recorded?  

    I certainly believe that a transparent government is best for the public, certainly after the corruption from Bill Richardson’s era – but I don’t believe that all communication done by means other than “public email” is done with the purpose of being a secret. 

  2. So, it took a UNM student to show some reason…?  Maybe there is hope.  Facinating to me.  Thanks justaUNMStudent!! 

    So everybody is so hot for Garey King to pursue this….doesn’t he already have quie a lot of unfinished business on his plate?  If he drops all the past Secretary of State and Richardson issues….not to mention te judiciary issues…. for this, I think it would smell a lot like flaming and twisted partisanship.  He can deal with this…and he should!  First, he needs to deal with his other unfinished business!!….in my opinion.

  3. Pat Rogers “should know that, given that he is on the board of the N.M. Foundation for Open Government and one of the best government transparency lawyers in the state.”

    Thanks for reminding us about this, Heath…truly despicable behavior made worse 100 times over due to his position as a board member of FOG…this just affirms my choice not to vote for him at the state GOP convention earlier this month to be national committeeman and thus not represent NM at the national convention in Tampa. He prevailed cuz he had no opposition and remains national committeeman.

    However, I had a gut feeling during his speech that day that something just wasn’t right.
     

  4. Okay new direction 2010, maybe I’m just a knucklehead but I’ll bite.  Tell me what is the “real prize” in 2014?  You’ve made the same statement in at least 3 postings on this site, each concerning a different article.  Is it Republican’t control of the state legislature along with the Governor’s office?  Based on your username, I’m guessing you might be a teabagger.

    Back to the topic at hand…Is the Governor’s spokesman’s only comment that the latest batch of emails was obtained illegally?  If that is true, hopefully someone will be held accountable.  But Darnell says nothing in response to the content and context of those emails?  One cannot help but think this is because they are not defensible, and the Governor must then be held accountable as well.

    If the defense is that the prior Governor was worse, that’s like saying we should not care if she robbed one or two banks (that we know of) because the other guy robbed ten and managed to get away. There’s a word for that:  rationalization.

  5. Thanks, Heath.

    If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 1000 times…
    Note to McClesky: Stand down from the bullying, political retribution, and unethical activity or risk losing the real prize in 2014.
    Here’s a thought…why don’t you guys focus all those pent up political energies and vendettas on projects/initiatives that will actually benefit the all of the constituents of NM? 

  6. I think Mary Herrera and her goons had a lot to do with why Governor Martinez was elected.

  7. Ms. Martinez is totally depended on her political adviser, Jay McCleskey. In the case of Governor Martinez there is an elephant in the room. She handled the District Attorney’s Office with great mediocrity.  New Mexicans elected a governor without any experience in state government – ZERO.  I am surprised no one yet has noticed the elephant in the room – so obvious.
     

  8. This administration continues the same old pattern. Just like Richardson, she has filled her appointments with politically connected people, is flying around doing political work instead of the peoples work, is raising money like a casino, is giving lucrative contracts to out of state firms, is running a shadow PAC in the same office as her official PAC, is making a power grab to decide how all capital outlay dollars are spent, blocks the press from obtaining information, goes after people in her own party, and has her political campaign chief running state government, and on and on.

  9. Governor (then candidate) Martinez wrote, “…a new culture of zero tolerance and responsibility will be instilled in the Roundhouse…”  That could be interpreted as ‘zero tolerance and zero responsibility,’ which seems more accurate.  Martinez displays zero tolerance for those who disagree with her, and these under-the-table communications display zero responsibility.  Perhaps that is what she really meant.

  10. On July 10, 2010, Candidate Susana Martinez asked if she would support “… independent investigations of government looking for waste due to corruption and incompetence and authorize the investigators to report directly to the public record and not only to those whose character and competence are under investigation?
    She answered, “yes”, “yes”, “yes”, “yes I would.”
    http://ched-macquigg.blogspot.com/search?q=martinez+independent+investigations
    Subsequent attempts to contact her about fulfilling have proven fruitless.
    When I asked her now Chief of Staff, the Republican Minority Whip Keith Gardner to champion transparency, he told us, too transparency can get in the way of leadership.
    They’re just “leading”.
    The proof of transparent accountability is transparent accountability; there is no equivalent gesture.
     
     

  11. “There’s one important difference: There were too many situations like this in the Richardson years to track them all. We haven’t seen as many from Martinez. That’s an improvement”
    Health, this happened in the first 9 months of her administration, break neck speed for someone who promised “bold change”.  Richardson bid rigging and Campaign Donation Contractors happened much later in his administration.  Mainly when he decided to run for President.  The fact that you claim there were to many “…situations like this in the Richardson years to track…” is true, but he had eight years to do his damage, she has been in office for one and half.
    I dont agree that she did the right thing with her directive, the right thing have been to make the IPRA apply to employees personal emails within her direct control.

    Bold Change for her would be to release all the emails from the susanapac server before they are made public in an FBI investigation into bid rigging. 

  12. There is an old joke – A little girl asked her father, ‘do all fairy tales begin with “Once upon a time”? The father replied, ‘No,  my little princess,  some begin with – If I am elected.’ This is the case with Governor Susana Martinez.  Ms. Martinez began  her own fairy tale – Once upon a time there was a corrupt Governor Bill Richardson- everything and everyone he touched was corrupt too. He flew around in a jet spreading corruption in New Mexico. So goes her sordid fairy tale.
     
    Ms. Martinez then promised: “If I am elected”—-  She will expose all the corruption in New Mexico.  Now in a new fairy tale, the princess has turned into the frog. Corruption reigns supreme in the Martinez administration.
     
     


     


     

  13. Republicans will find out what it is to become disenchanted with their governor.
     

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