Another chapter in the Susana e-mail saga UPDATES: McCleskey refutes, Rode and Gov’s office clash
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A political action committee aligned against Gov. Susana Martinez says a string of e-mails it is distributing to the media indicates the governor’s office was manipulating the bidding on a 25-year lease given to the Downs of Albuquerque. The governor’s defenders say it’s a political hit job and have called in the FBI to investigate whether the e-mails were acquired through hacking.
“We’re still poring through them,” Michael Corwin, the group’s executive director said by telephone while adding that the e-mails came from a source who “assured us that they were obtained legally … they even had them vetted by an attorney.”
“The FBI is looking into this,” Gov. Martinez said on Thursday (June 28). “I’m confident who’s responsible for this will be brough to justice.”
Monday’s e-mails show an attorney for the Downs at Albuquerque, Pat Rogers, contacted the governor’s deputy chief of staff Ryan Cangliosi after the governor’s political advisor Jay McCleskey talked Charles Brunt, a reporter for the Albuquerque Journal who covered the state’s bidding process in finding a company to run things at the State Fair. Update 7/3: McCleskey tells Capitol Report New Mexico, “I have no record or recollection of even having contact with Charles Brunt before April 5, 2012 when he contacted me about SusanaPAC for a story he was doing.” The e-mails released by Independent Source PAC attribute Rogers referring to McCleskey talking to Brunt in an e-mail dated Sept. 1, 2011.
“So a lawyer for the Downs is relaying messages about the contract from a Martinez advisor to a member of the administration, on private emails and at a prohibited period of time for such discussions to take place,” Corwin wrote in a press release Monday.
But Martinez spokesman Greg Blair responded Monday afternoon that “there is absolutely nothing wrong with an interested party bringing their concerns to the administration.”
“The administration listened to anyone who came to us with concerns,” Blair added, “including having private meetings with opponents of the lease. It’s laughable that a PAC funded by unions who employ an army of lobbyists is arguing that lobbying is somehow illegal.”
A private investigator, Corwin used to do opposition research in the administration of then-Gov. Bill Richardson and accuses the Martinez administration of using private e-mails to avoid the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA).
“When we talk about good government, an IPRA should be provided,” Corwin said. “They should have been produced. They weren’t.”
While the Martinez administration has gone to the FBI, two Democratic Party state legislators who have wrangled with Martinez (Rep. Rick Miera and Sen. Linda Lopez) have filed complaints with State Attorney General Gary King calling for an investigation into the administration’s use of private e-mail accounts in the Public Education Department.
Critics of Martinez are jumping on the stories, accusing McCleskey — who’s not afraid to campaign aggressively for his political clients — of having too much influence on the governor, which is something she dimisses out of hand.
“No one tells me what to think,” Martinez said flatly to the Journal last month.
The Downs lease has had a controversial and complicated history.
First, Martinez has been criticized for favoring the deal since she received $70,000 from interests associated with Downs management (which also donated $50,000 to Diane Denish, who ran against Martinez in the 2010 gubernatorial race) but a number of Democrats — such as state senators Richard Martinez and Bernandette Sanchez as well as state representatives Edward Sandoval and Antonio “Moe” Maestas — sent letters to the Board of Finance calling on members to approve the deal.
When the deal was finalized in late December, the State Fair’s interim manager, Dan Mourning, said the new lease was vastly superior to the old one, pointing out that the base rent for the Downs owners increases from $2 million a year up to $2.75 million in 2014 and thereafter. The new lease also calls for $300,000 a year in advertising, $1.3 million in what’s called “participation rent,” and a requirement for the Downs to sponsor 12 events a year at Tingley Coliseum plus four events a year at the horse arena. And there’s a $20 million casino being constructed on the grounds.
But there have been plenty of critics, including former State Fair Commissioner Charlotte Rode, who insisted the bidding process could have been extended for another year and the Laguna Development Corp. – which operates Route 66 and Dancing Eagle casinos west of Albuquerque for Laguna Pueblo – filed a protest in January challenging the State Fair Commission’s 4-3 vote to give the lease to the Downs. Update 7/3: The Albuquerque Journal reports that Rode has filed a complaint with the state auditor’s office to investigate the racino lease. From the Journal:
“I’m not on a witch hunt. I seriously just want good government. I tried, almost begged, to see the governor many times to discuss this and to discuss my concerns, to reach out to her and try to convince her that this is not going well,” Rode said. “I don’t want to undermine her; I don’t want to undermine my party.”
Martinez spokesman Greg Blair said Rode’s claim of being ignored by the governor’s administration is false. He said Rode has met with Cangiolosi and the administration’s legal counsel to discuss the Downs lease.
“Rode has proven to be an extremist who will say and do anything to block the winning bid for a racino at Expo, even if it means shutting down the state fair. Her recent complaints, like her old complaints, are without merit,” Blair wrote in an email.
Martinez officials point to letters from two potential investors at the State Fair saying they had no interest in bidding on the lease and that the Downs offer was the best to choose from.
Posted under Capitol Report.
Tags: Albuquerque Journal, Bill Richardson, Capitol Report New Mexico, Charles Brunt, Charlotte Rode, Dan Mourning, Gary King, Independent Source PAC, Inspection fo Public Records Act, Jay McCleskey, Laguna Development, Michael Corwin, New Mexico Attorney General, Susana Martinez