Susana and the e-mails
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When does e-mail from a personal account or political action committee cross over into government business?
That’s the heart of the latest political dustup in Santa Fe that has Democrats and critics of the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez hopping mad while administration spokesmen — naturally — are downplaying the affair as politics as usual.
On Friday morning (June 15), Steve Terrell of the Santa Fe New Mexican followed up on an earlier report regarding the Public Education Department with another story showing other incidents of emails from officials in the Martinez administration concerning state business that were sent using personal, non-government email accounts — including one email from the governor herself.
The incidents in the Friday article refer to what appears to be the firing of an employee in the Department of Corrections last summer after a prisoner escaped.
Gov. Martinez wrote a sharply worded e-mail about a report dealing with the escape. Nothing wrong with that but according to the New Mexican story, Martinez sent the e-mail to various members of her staff and at least one person in the Department of Finance and Administration on e-mail addresses assigned to her political action committee (called “Susana PAC“) rather than state governmental e-mail addresses.
The attorney for the employee who was let go is Sam Bregman, a well-known Albuquerque attorney who is also just as well known throughout the state as a prominent Democrat, who is screaming foul. “They’re the most secretive, covert government in the history of the state,” Bregman was quoted in the New Mexican. “Shame on the governor for conducting state business with her cronies on private emails.”
Martinez communications director Scott Darnell responded by saying that “this information is coming to you from the attorney of a former state employee who has an incentive to try to create issues where there are none.”
But Gwyneth Doland of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government said Thursday that “I am horrified to think that it may be the practice of the state of New Mexico to conduct public business in secret using email accounts that no records custodian could access. This is absolutely unacceptable to think the public’s right to know is being so brazenly violated. I’m shocked to hear that this is coming from a governor so [publicly] supportive of transparency.”
Darnell responded by saying that there’s a distinction to be made between e-mails and exchanges that are “preliminary in nature, do not reflect final action, etc.” and “final agency action” that is conducted through official state e-mail.
Democrats will no doubt say such parsing amounts to a distinction without a difference.
And doubtless they will also pounce on the fact that Corrections e-mails also included Martinez political adviser Jay McCleskey, whom Democrats portray as a New Mexico version of Karl Rove and/or Lee Atwater.
In Terrell’s New Mexican story Friday morning, he asks spokesman Darnell why McCleskey was included in the e-mail list. “It’s likely due to the fact that he is an adviser to the governor, and like many governors, she seeks broad input on situations,” Darnell said.
To make the political intrigue even thicker, the original story dealing with e-mails and the Public Education Department originated from Independent Source PAC, a liberal organization avowed to oppose just about everything the Martinez administration supports. Independent Source PAC is largely funded by the Communications Workers of America union and is headed by Michael Corwin, a private investigator who used to to opposition research for former Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson – whose record Martinez pounded during her run for the governship in 2010.
To read the PED story that started this, click here. Update: In Friday’s Albuquerque Journal, two Democratic Party members of the Roundhouse are calling for the attorney general’s office to investigate whether any laws were broken by PED employees for using state rescources for political purposes. Click here to read that story. (Sorry, subscription required.)
To read Friday’s story in the New Mexican about the Corrections e-mails, click here.
Posted under Capitol Report.
Tags: Bill Richardson, Communications Workers of America, Gwyneth Doland, Independent Source PAC, Jay McCleskey, Michael Corwin, New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, New Mexico Public Education Department, Sam Bregman, Santa Fe New Mexican, Steve Terrell, Susana Martinez, Susana PAC