ADVERTISEMENT

It’s just business, New Mexico-style

September 24, 2017 GMT

That’s just “the way we do business in New Mexico.”

I thought of those immortal words from former State Treasurer Michael Montoya — said while he was shaking down an investment adviser for campaign contributions in the early part of this century — when reading the now-infamous article on the International Business Times website last week. In it, we learned how some recipients of big-bucks state investments also gave large campaign donations to political action committees connected to Gov. Susana Martinez and to national political organizations that have supported her campaigns.

This, coming just a few days before an important pretrial hearing for former state Sen. Phil Griego, can’t help but remind me of Montoya’s infamous boast. Griego, a Democrat from San José, is accused of using his influence as a senator to push through the sale of a state building — which netted him a $50,000 broker’s fee from the buyer. His trial on multiple corruption charges is scheduled next month.

ADVERTISEMENT

“That’s the way we do business in New Mexico.”

And I’m not the only reporter who’s recently thought of what we should start calling The Montoya Doctrine. Just a few days before the International Business Times piece was published, my colleague Andrew Oxford quoted Montoya in an excellent story about serious problems in enforcing state laws dealing with state contractors contributing to the politicians who approve their deals. These laws came to be in the wake of the state treasury kickback scandals involving Montoya and his successor, Robert Vigil, more than a decade ago.

No, I’m not saying Martinez or her team are guilty like Montoya, who took a plea deal, or Vigil, who actually served time in prison. And I’m not saying that the evidence presented in the International Business Times article (which was written and researched with Maplight, a nonprofit that specializes in campaign finance matters) is anywhere as damning as the evidence in the treasurer case or many of the other floats in the constant corruption parade we’ve seen in the past dozen years.

There is no evidence that Martinez or any of her lieutenants actually told any of those big investors, “Hey, if you want that $30 million investment deal, you’d better contribute generously to the Republican Governors Association — and hire Jay McCleskey’s wife while you’re at it.”

And there is no proof that the governor strong-armed the State Investment Council or the Educational Retirement Board to reward Martinez’s contributors. Charles Wollmann, a spokesman for the State Investment Council, told me that even though Martinez is by law the chairwoman of the council, the investments from his agency mentioned in the story all were sourced by independent fiduciaries, vetted by professional investment staff, reviewed by the council and voted on in two open meetings.

ADVERTISEMENT

As for the Educational Retirement Board — which issued a news release saying the International Business Times article was “simply false” — Martinez only appoints three of the six members. Like the State Investment Council, there is a selection process conducted initially by staff and then by a committee. “The governor does not initiate, suggest or influence investment decisions by [Educational Retirement Board],” the statement said. Board members “do not know which managers are under consideration until the final approval at the Investment Committee,” the news release said.

The news release says board members voluntarily adopted a transparency policy of requiring managers to disclose political contributions. But that policy — like other state procurement regulations — doesn’t include political action committees or “independent expenditure” groups.

As Ernest P. Worrell might have said, “Well there’s your problem, Verne.”

So it’s true that there is no solid evidence of pay-to-play in this case. Yet, why does it always seem that people who get big government contracts in New Mexico turn out to be big campaign contributors?

What is it about the way we do business in New Mexico?

Contact Steve Terrell at 505-986-3037 or sterrell@sfnewmexica­n.com. Read his blog at www.santafenewmexican.com/roundhouse_roundup.