Archive for Statewide
by John Weckerle
In our most recent American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) article, we indicated that we had sent an e-mail to our local State Representative, Jim Smith, and Senator, James White, containing several questions inquiring into whether they had ties to ALEC and, if so, what those ties involved. Not surprisingly, we received a response from Mr. Smith the following day, and are providing his answers verbatim here:
- Are you a current or former member of ALEC? “No, I’m not now or a former member of ALEC. I will go further to say that I will never be a member.”
- Have you attended any ALEC-sponsored meetings or events? If so, when, how many and what was the focus of the meeting (s) or event(s)? “I told you years ago (probably 5 or 6) that I attended a dinner during the legislative session that was sponsored by ALEC. I remember numerous legislators from both sides of the aisle being present and don’t recall any particular legislation being discussed. That was the only ALEC-sponsored event that I’ve ever attended.”
- Have you participated in any of ALEC’s task force activities? “No, I’ve never attended any ALEC task force activities.”
- Have you introduced, sponsored, co-sponsored, voted for, or otherwise supported legislation resulting from ALEC’s activities? “I’ve never introduced, sponsored or co-sponsored any legislation that resulted from ALEC activities. I can’t say that I’ve never voted for any that ALEC supported because my limited understanding of ALEC is that they support some things that fiscal conservatives may vote for. But, I’ve never been asked by anyone to vote for a particular bill on behalf of ALEC.”
- Have you received campaign contributions or other support from ALEC, its members, or its supporters? “I’ve never received a campaign contribution from ALEC. However, I’m sure that some businesses that are members of ALEC may have contributed to my campaigns. However, none of those contributors have ever asked me to support a particular ALEC-endorsed legislation.”
We appreciate the forthrightness in Mr. Smith’s response, as well as the brevity, as these articles go a bit long as it is. In terms of brevity, however, Mr. Smith has nothing on Mr. White who, like his predecessor and ALEC member Sue Wilson Beffort in 2012, provided no response at all to our questions. You just can’t get any more brief than that.
Having known Mr. Smith for years, we take him at his word with respect to a direct relationship with ALEC. He does raise some interesting points, though, in his responses to the last two questions. Mr. White’s non-responses may not indicate anything, although we’ll note that one out of two State Senators who did not respond to our ALEC questions was listed as an ALEC member – perhaps not a statistically significant sample, but it certainly gives us pause for thought. With that in mind, we ask the question – just how much interest are ALEC and its allies taking in our legislators, whether they themselves are interested or not?
In researching this article, we reviewed dozens of sources (in addition to those used in our previous article) in an attempt to track down information on ALEC member status of contributors :
- ALEC Corporations – Sourcewatch
- ALEC Trade Groups – Sourcewatch
- ALEC Law Firms – Sourcewatch
- ALEC Non-Profits – Sourcewatch
- ALEC Governmental Groups – Sourcewatch
- List of Members of the American Legislative Exchange Council – Wikipedia
- FollowTheMoney.org – The National Institute on Money in State Politics (NIMSP)
We began by using the NIMSP database to gather information on the legislators’ campaign contributions beginning in 2010. We copied the information into series of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, and sorted it in a variety of ways to get a feel for patterns in the contributions, noting a substantial number of donations to both candidates from fossil energy and electricity interests, lobbyists, political action committees, and other candidates. We then used the sources above and dozens of others to assess which contributors could be reasonably reliably linked to ALEC. These are color coded in two spreadsheets, one for Mr. Smith and one for Mr. White, with yellow denoting corporate contributors listed in one or more sources as affiliated with ALEC, and salmon-color denoting corporate contributors that claim to have discontinued their relationship with ALEC but were members at the time the contribution was made. Legislators associated with ALEC were colored yellow. Note that these are just the contributors that were listed in the sources we reviewed as directly linked to ALEC, or linked to ALEC through their national organizations; we cannot state as an absolute fact that any of them is a member, except for those listed on ALEC’s web site as listed in last week’s article. We caution our readers, however, that the list may be incomplete, and that there is a substantial similarity between the purported ALEC members and many of the other contributors on the two lists of contributors. We did not count the contributions of members’ spouses, although there were quite a few of those. As the spreadsheets show: of the $107,813 in contributions listed for Mr. Smith, $26,225 came from ALEC contributors; of the $136,954 listed for Mr. White, $22,400 came from ALEC supporters. We again take Mr. Smith at his word, and have received none from Mr. White, but regardless of either gentleman’s interest in ALEC, ALEC appears very interested in them – as do people doing business in the same areas as the ALEC-related entities. Mr. White, for example, received $15,500 from the Oil and Gas general industry sector, including $7,250 from major multinational producers, the overwhelming majority of which came from out-of-state contributors. Similarly, Mr. Smith received $15,300 from the Oil and Gas sector, again nearly all of which came from outside the state, with $5,150 coming from the major multinationals. Mr. Smith and Mr. White received $6,850 and $4,125 from the Lobbyists & Public Relations business sector, respectively (we did not investigate the source of the money due in part to the sheer number of contributions and in part to difficulty using the NM Secretary of State’s web site, which appears to be having some problems running queries). Mr. White received 51 contributions valued at $38,100 from outside the state (out of a total of 317), with Mr. Smith receiving 70 out-of-state contributions valued at $29,475 out of 334 total contributions. Mr. Smith fared better with the tobacco industry, collecting $2,050 to Mr. White’s $850, but trailed Mr. White in the Beer, Wine & Liquor sector – $1,600 to $2,248. Oddly, between the two legislators, we found only one $250 contribution from the Agriculture broad industry sector. Both gentlemen were also generously supported by the Gas & Electric Utilities sector, received contributions from the National Rifle Association, and were supported by Big Pharma, including Pfizer (both), Merck (Mr. Smith), and Abbott Laboratories (Mr. White) – all ALEC members.
Mr. Smith has received a total of $4,375 from ALEC-related New Mexico politicians, somewhat behind Mr. White’s $6,050. In terms of their own contributions to other candidates affilliated with ALEC, Mr Smith has made a total of two contributions to two identified candidates, Nora Lee Espinoza and Janice Arnold-Jones, totaling $400. Mr. White has made six contributions to three such candidates, totaling $2,150.
There are a number of reasons that ALEC members – and those who perhaps share their interests – would invest in our local legislators. Perhaps they are members of ALEC, or perhaps not. Whether they are seeking to directly influence them, supporting candidates who may be generally more friendly to their agendas and therefore more likely to vote for legislation favorable to their industry, or just seeking to maintain or expand the influence of a given political party, the fact remains that these entities are likely to be most concerned with their own interests and far less with those of New Mexicans. Mr. Smith has been up front about his non-involvement with ALEC. Mr. White, on the other hand, apparently chose to follow the lead of his predecessor, ALEC member Sue Wilson-Beffort, and provide no response to our inquiry – and we suspect that this is likely somewhere in the ALEC member playbook, as it were. While we can make no statement of fact on the issue, it is hard to escape the impression that Mr. White is up to his armpits in ALEC. Absent any statement on his part, we see no reason to think otherwise.
Given ALEC’s history of developing and disseminating self-serving legislation, we should be cautious, and vigilant, in knowing what we can about our legislators, the sources of their campaign funding, and how this may affect the future of our State. The denizens of New Mexico Central take a dim view of corporations and out-of-state politicians writing our laws for us, ESPECIALLY without the disclosure requirements that apply to lobbyists, and those who feel the same may wish to take a hard look at those who have been elected to serve them – as opposed to serving those who serve themselves.
The question then arises: how does one take that hard look? In our next ALEC-related article, we will provide a step-by-step description of how we gathered the information we needed to assess the issue. It took a long time to figure out – but once known, the process doesn’t take long.
by John Weckerle
Our readers know that, given our relative disinclination toward hyperbole, the word “sordid” is not one we make a habit of using. In fact, until now, we have never used it – and as of now, we can say we have used it only twice, both in the same article, but never seriously.
In response to our first ALEC and Us article on New Mexico legislators involved with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and a follow-up inquiry, State Representative Jim Smith provided a prompt (last Monday) response disclosing his sinister past with ALEC – or, more accurately, the lack thereof. Mr. Smith indicated that his involvement with the organization was limited attendance at an ALEC-sponsored dinner in Santa Fe, at which many lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were present. The dinner was interrupted by the Occupy movement, and Mr. Smith recalled that “a couple of members spoke briefly about being pro-business” but no legislative agenda was discussed.
Mr. Smith indicated: “Although I do attend a lot of meetings sponsored by various groups, I don’t actually join many, if any, of them.” This sounds like good policy for a legislator, and we’re glad to see it operative in this situation.
State Senator Sue Wilson-Beffort, to whom we sent essentially the same e-mail message as Mr. Smith, has not yet replied. If a response is not forthcoming soon, then perhaps research will substitute. We’ll keep our readers posted.
Editor’s note: In our previous ALEC And Us article, we called upon New Mexico legislators in general and our own District legislators – Sue Wilson-Beffort and Jim Smith – to disclose and clarify the nature and extent of their involvement, if any, with the American Legislative Exchange Council. We followed up with an e-mail to Ms. Wilson-Beffort and Mr. Smith on Friday. We have not yet received a response, but let’s remember it’s the weekend and the e-mail went out on Friday. We hope to hear from them soon.
by John Weckerle
The New York Times has run an article expanding on the activities of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), including its lobbying, and also its status as a tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) organization. An NPR article also casts doubt upon the organization’s charity status. Both articles note that a watchdog agency, Common Cause, has filed a complaint with the IRS alleging that ALEC has abused its tax-exempt status. The NPR article provides some analysis indicating that precedent suggests ALEC may be on the wrong side of the law in this regard.
The Times article characterizes ALEC as a “stealth business lobbyist.” Of particular interest to us in this regard is whether the group’s activities in New Mexico may have violated New Mexico laws governing lobbying. A quick look over the list of registered lobbyists in New Mexico does not reveal any indication that ALEC has any registered lobbyists. It is unclear which legislators may have received input from ALEC’s members, whether those members were registered as lobbyists in the state, and to what extent individual New Mexico legislators may have received campaign contributions from ALEC members. While we have not completed a detailed analysis of information available through FollowTheMoney.org, a preliminary review suggests connections among the various ALEC members.
by John Weckerle
We recently published an article on the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case, in part a response to a Sandia Tea Party article on the subject. We urged our readers – and everybody else, although we’re not sure how they’d know we were urging without reading – to refrain from speculating on the degree to which race was a factor in the tragedy until the facts are in. We repeat that request, and want our readers to understand that our interest in mentioning the case is associated with Florida’s now-infamous “Stand Your Ground” law. It is not the merits of this law, but its origins that interest us today. Multiple sources have linked the law to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a consortium of conservative state legislators and corporate interests. Put simply, this “consortium” drafts legislation for enactment at the State level, and its members then bring that legislation forward in their individual State legislative bodies. The range of legislative subjects is incredibly broad, and the legislation typically focuses on advancing conservative approaches but especially corporate interests.
In response to the Martin/Zimmerman tragedy, a number of corporate/nonprofit entities – Kraft, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, and Intuit, and the Gates Foundation – were reported to have pulled out of the organization. You might, and should, question why they were there in the first place. We question whether some of them left at all: as of 7:30 MDT today, the organization’s web site continues to list Derek Crawford of Kraft Foods as one of its Private Enterprise Board members. With the recent announcement that ALEC is discontinuing its efforts associated with gun laws and other “non economic” causes came a few articles (a random one here) reporting that ALEC will no longer promote “social policy,” we saw a few articles suggesting that ALEC was doing the National Rifle Association’s bidding. On the other hand, a few news outlets did some reporting casting some doubt with respect to the question as to who was errand boy to whom (one here). Leaving aside that question, we’ll simply note that ALEC, an organization of which we’ve been aware for years, found itself back in the slightly dim area next to the spotlight. The entire ALEC issue had received less attention than one might have expected – but then again, those corporate sponsors do buy television, radio, and TV time.
As a result of the attention, ALEC issued a statement that they were discontinuing their “non-economic” efforts. We move on to another subject associated with ALEC, albeit one that has received even less attention in the popular press, that is certainly economic in nature: the recent and relatively quiet repeal of a law in Wisconsin requiring equal pay for women. As our readers know, we do tend to want to go for “mainstream” news sources where we can, but these seem so far down on the search indices on this subject that we have our choice of linking to a Huffington Post article or Monday’s Daily Show coverage – and while we are providing a link to the latter, and we think it’s worth watching, we’d like some of our more family-oriented readers to know that there’s a bit of raunch toward the end of the latter story. Of these two sources, only the Daily Show short brings forward the role of Wisconsin legislator ALEC member Glenn Grothman – and again, since some of our readers are perhaps not interested in some of the imagery that might be found in that video, we’ll summarize to the extent that Mr. Grothman is on record as saying that making money is perhaps more important to men than women because young men may want to be breadwinners some day (New York Daily News article here). We invite our readers to weigh in on that position… According to the Daily News article, other pieces of legislation of interest to women included one “barring abortion coverage through health insurance exchanges” and another “mandating doctors to consult privately with women seeking abortions.”
With all the renewed attention on ALEC, we started wondering just who in the New Mexico legislature might be involved – because, quite frankly, having New Mexico laws written by a consortium of business interests and predominantly out-of-state legislators does not sit any better with us than it probably does with most New Mexicans. The ALEC site doesn’t list all the members, but we found the following list in a Sourcewatch article:
House of Representatives
- Rep. Paul Bandy (R-3), ALEC State Chairman and Guest at the December 2010 International Relations Task Force meeting
- Rep. Jimmie Hall (R-28) and Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force Alternate
- Rep. William Gray (R-54), ALEC Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force Alternate
- Rep. Nathaniel Quentin Gentry (R-30), ALEC Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force Alternate
- Rep. Rick L. Little (R-53), ALEC Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force Member
- Rep. Alonzo Baldonado (R-8), ALEC Education Task Force Member
- Rep. Dennis Roch (R-67), ALEC Education Task Force Member
- Rep. Paul Bandy (R-3), ALEC Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force Member
- Rep. Nora Espinoza (R-59), ALEC Health and Human Services Task Force Member
- Rep. Larry A. Larranaga (R-27), ALEC International Relations Task Force Member
- Rep. William R. Rehm (R-31), ALEC Public Safety and Elections Task Force Member
- Rep. Anna M. Crook (R-64), ALEC Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force Member
- Rep. James R.J. Strickler (R-2), ALEC Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force Member
- Rep. Thomas A. Anderson (R-29), ALEC Telecommunications and Information Technology Task Force Member
- Rep. Dennis J. Kintigh (R-57), ALEC Civil Justice Task Force Member
- Sen. Sander Rue (R-23),Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force Member
- Sen. George K. Munoz (D-4), ALEC Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force Member
- Sen. William E. Sharer (R-1), ALEC Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force Member
- Sen. Mark L. Boitano (R-18), ALEC Education Task Force Member
- Sen. Vernon Asbill (R-34), ALEC Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force Member
- Sen. Sue Beffort (R-19), ALEC Health and Human Services Task Force Member
- Sen. William H. Payne (R-20), ALEC State Chairman and International Relations Task Force and Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force Member
- Sen. Rod Adair (R-33), ALEC Civil Justice Task Force Member
- Former Sen. Kent L. Cravens (R-21) (resigned September 2011 to become lobbyist for [[New Mexico Oil and Gas Association), former ALEC State Chairman, and Public Safety and Elections Task Force member
Now, that’s 21 legislators, not counting former Senator Kent Cravens, who apparently experienced the ALEC version of the Rapture – all but one of them Republicans. What we found most interesting was that our locality is quite well represented among the ALEC ranks. Senator Sue Wilson-Beffort, of Senate District 19 is prominently listed, as are ALEC State Chairman Senator William Payne of District 20, Senator Mark Boitano of Albuquerque’s District 18, Senator Sander Rue of “just across the river” District 23, and Senator Rod Adair of District 33, just to our south. On the House side we have Jimmie Hall, Nathaniel Quentin, Larry Larranaga, and Bill Rehm of Albuquerque; Thomas Anderson of western Bernalillo County; District 8’s Alonzo Baldonado; and another neighbor to the south, Dennis Kintigh.
We are asking our readers to alert these people to the existence of this article, and we are inviting them to provide us with a disclosure of their involvement with ALEC and a list of bills that they have introduced or supported that are or were supported by ALEC or based on its model bills. We are also, quite bluntly, asking that every New Mexico legislator with any ties to ALEC sever them immediately and henceforth serve their State’s interests and not those of other entities. We especially direct this request to our own Senator, Sue Wilson-Beffort -and to be fair, to our Representative Jim Smith, whose name we are very glad not to see on the list. We suggest that all our readers contact their Senators and Representatives, and demand to know whether they are a part of the ALEC network or supporting its initiatives. Let’s keep the running of New Mexico to those who live here.
A few related links:
- Source Watch – American Legislative Exchange Council
- NPR – Who Writes Our Laws?
- WCVB TV Boston – NRA, ALEC Team Up For Causes Beyond Gun Laws
- WFIE TV – ALEC Stops Pushing “Stand Your Ground” Laws
- Crooks and Liars: Gates Foundation Announces It Will Withdraw Funding From ALEC
- Sarah Kennedy: Our Resident Smart Aleck Talks About ALEC
by John Weckerle
KUNM has reported that Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) executives were awarded a total of $2.26 million in incentive fees last year, with nearly half going to the company’s president and CEO Pat Vincent-Collawn, whose base salary is $575,000 (see the article, PNM Executives Paid Millions in Incentive Pay in 2011). Lest we react hastily, PNM has an explanation. According to the article: “PNM says the incentive payments are due to increases in the the company’s business performance and came from shareholders, not rates paid by customers.” We tend to be just a wee bit skeptical of this statement. Shareholders are not a source of revenue, and we find the prospect of all the shareholders sending a “Congratulations on a Great Job” card with a check in it to be a relatively unlikely scenario.
As reported in the Santa Fe New Mexican, rates, executive pay, and profits have risen dramatically since 2009. With respect to incentive fees earned by Ms. Vincent-Collawn, the article states: “Vincent-Collawn also received $1.2 million in compensation, all of it from the shareholders’ earnings. Bermudez said that’s written in her contract. “She has target points to receive that compensation. If the company does better financially, she is compensated. If she doesn’t perform, she loses the compensation.”
Now, we’re not against people being compensated for their successes or their investments. However, let us again point out that these incentives – and the shareholder earnings from which they are being taken – come from somewhere. A big chunk of somewhere exists in the form of rates paid by customers, and those customers are having a tough time. According to the article, New Mexico lost 45,000 jobs from 2007 to 2011, and average income has declined. Three consecutive rate hikes have pushed the cost of electricity up 41% over the past three years. We understand that PNM was in bad shape financially when the increases began, but it’s clear that, given the increase in profits and executive compensation, either the utility’s recovery is complete or ratepayers’ money is going to the wrong places. Regardless, it’s time for the Public Regulatory Commission to take a good, hard look at the rates and how they are being used, and make sure that future adjustments, up or down, are based on a thorough examination of the company’s finances.
by John Weckerle
KOBTV reports that internet and phone service have been restored to our area after having been interrupted due to the accidental cutting of a Qwest fiber optic cable in Tijeras. Another crew cut a line south of Soccorro that interrupted service to much of the southern part of the State. KOBTV and other sources suggested that cell phones be used to make emergency contact.
That would have been fine, we suppose, except for those of us whose cell phone service was also affected. As it turns out, we had a medical emergency here at New Mexico Central headquarters shortly after the outage began, and found that our Sprint cell service was also inoperative. Unable to make ANY connections to contact doctors or emergency response people for advice, we made our own run to the ER in Albuquerque and took care of the problem ourselves (everything will be fine).
We would like to know more about this situation: the identity of the contractors, what led to the accidental cutting of the cables, whether any negligence was involved, what corrective actions and/or sanctions are being implemented, and what Qwest may be able to do provide some level of backup service in the event that cables are accidentally cut in the future.
by John Weckerle
Santa Rosa is usually a little east of our coverage area, but this news is big enough for New Mexico Central. As reported in the Albuquerque Journal, GA-Solar, a subsidiary of Corporación Gestamp, will invest $1 billion in a 2,500 acre photovoltaic array with a capacity of up to 300 megawatts (MW). According to the Journal article, the project will temporarily employ 300 workers during construction, with 75 permanent jobs being created for the plant’s operations.
For more information, see the Journal article. Congratulations, Santa Rosa and Guadalupe County!