Lawyer’s tenure on sunshine group board needs to end
Pat Rogers has spent much of his legal career fighting for government transparency, but his recent actions helped create the appearance that the Martinez administration’s controversial contract with the Downs at Albuquerque was an insider deal.
I first met Pat Rogers many years ago when dealing with government transparency issues while a reporter at the Las Cruces Sun-News.
Rogers is an excellent sunshine lawyer who is a past president of the N.M. Foundation for Open Government (FOG), a current board member, and a 2004 recipient of the organization’s Dixon Award for fighting for open government.
But, as I wrote last week, Rogers’ recent actions helped create the appearance that the Martinez administration’s controversial contract with the Downs at Albuquerque was an insider deal.
Rogers represented the Downs in the process. He’s also the Republican National committeeman for New Mexico and a former general counsel for the state GOP.
This is what the Downs deal looks like: A company that gave lots of money to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s 2010 campaign won a state contract after hiring a GOP insider (Rogers) who was communicating privately about the contract, before it was awarded, with people close to Martinez.
Sending e-mails to private addresses
Since publishing last week’s column, I’ve obtained an additional three Rogers e-mails that contribute to the insider appearance of the deal, bringing the total to six.
Among the six Rogers e-mails, which were obtained and released by the left-leaning Independent Source PAC (read them here and here), are two that relate to compliance with the Open Meetings Act. Rogers sent two e-mails to Dan Mourning, the general manager of Expo New Mexico and overseer of the lease contract process, on Nov. 1, weeks before the State Fair Commission voted to award the Downs the contract.
He sent them to Mourning’s personal e-mail address, not his government address.
In the first, Rogers advised Mourning that the State Fair Commission’s Open Meetings Act resolution didn’t allow members to participate in meetings by telephone. He also wrote that he would have some additional notes on Commissioner Charlotte Rode’s “flagrant open meetings act violations.” Rode has been the most vocal critic of the way the Martinez administration handled the lease process.
Less than an hour after that first e-mail, Rogers sent additional notes in a second e-mail. Rogers then forwarded both e-mails to Martinez’s deputy chief of staff for boards and commissions, Ryan Cangiolosi, using Cangiolosi’s Martinez campaign e-mail address rather than his government address. Rogers also forwarded the e-mails to Martinez’s political adviser Jay McCleskey, who is not a state employee.
Rogers sent the other four e-mails provided by Independent Source PAC to Cangiolosi’s campaign e-mail address. He also sent two of them to McCleskey. They all appear to relate to the Downs deal, and at least one indicates a chummy relationship: In it, Rogers referred to “Mr. McCluskey” kissing Albuquerque Journal reporter Charles Brunt’s “posterior” and being involved in “the erosion of the executive branches’ authority and majesty.”
In that same Sept. 1 e-mail he sent to Cangiolosi and copied to McCleskey, Rogers also wrote that his “position is that Hossie needs to run everything” – an apparent reference to State Fair Commissioner David “Hossie” Sanchez of Albuquerque that leaves little doubt about the topic of the e-mail, especially given that Brunt covered the Downs deal.
Appearance of an insider deal
Martinez’s spokesman says Cangiolosi’s e-mails were illegally intercepted and he never received them. But whether one of the people close to Martinez received the e-mails isn’t the point of this column.
Rogers’ actions are.
I was concerned several years ago when Rogers became the GOP’s national committeeman from New Mexico. He was a member of the FOG board’s executive committee at the time, and I wondered how he would be able to juggle heavy involvement in a nonpartisan government watchdog organization with such a partisan position.
Now my concern has risen to a level that compels me to speak out.
There would be nothing wrong with Rogers, through official channels and on behalf of his client, communicating with the State Fair Commission or the Governor’s Office to express concern about potential Open Meetings Act violations and to lobby for the contract. In fact, as I pointed out in my previous column, he did lots of communicating about this deal through official channels.
But these e-mails show that Rogers was also communicating about potential Open Meetings Act violations and other issues related to the contract with people close to Martinez privately – hidden from the government sunshine for which he’s spent so much time fighting. That contributes to the appearance that this was an insider deal.
Sunshine group under a cloud
As a journalist who has focused often on government transparency and as a member of FOG, I believe Rogers’ continued membership on FOG’s board of directors casts a cloud over the organization.
I hate to say it, because Rogers has spent much of his career fighting for government transparency and done lots of good work, but, for the sake of the integrity of the organization, Rogers’ membership on the FOG board needs to come to an end.