As the governor faces down a veto override led by members of her own party, a Republican State Senator unexpectedly began the process to recall a bill exempting a real estate contract from state purchasing laws. Senators said the governor’s administration did not disclose that the beneficiary was a major donor to Governor Martinez’s campaign and PAC nor that the space was deemed incompatible with the state’s needs by one of Martinez’s own cabinet secretaries.
- “I found out the information I was given early on was not accurate – that there were campaign contributions I wasn’t aware of,” Republican Senator Neville said in an interview with the Albuquerque Journal.
- “We’re being lied to,” Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, said on the floor. “This is despicable.”
Andrew Oxford reported in the NM Political Report and Santa Fe New Mexican:
In an extraordinary maneuver, state senators killed a bill Saturday that they had approved four days earlier after one of them said he had misled his colleagues about connections between Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and real estate developers who stood to benefit from the legislation.
Democrats charged that the bill, which would have extended a building lease for state offices in Albuquerque, had turned into an example of pay-to-play politics, while members of Martinez’s administration maintained they had made an honest mistake based on incomplete information. For her part, Martinez said through a spokesman that neither she nor her staff ever discussed with campaign donors the leases addressed in the measure.
Most state leases are not passed as laws, prompting some senators to ask questions as the bill was introduced and moved forward. It was sponsored by Sen. Neville at the request of the governor’s administration.
At issue is a $1.9 million annual contract for office space leased by CYFD and other agencies at an Albuquerque office complex near San Mateo and Central. State law prohibits contracts longer than 20 years and the current contract would have expired soon unless he legislature approved an exemption.
But CYFD had previously told reporters that the space on San Mateo was no longer useful for their needs. [CYFD Secretary] Jacobson told the New Mexican that “her department had sought a different building, one more welcoming for children in state care.” It later changed its mind.
The property owner proposed to lower the contract to $1.3 million per year on the CYFD lease if the state renewed the lease, a legislative report says. Another $3 million in state leases at the location would also be extended (some as far as 2028). That would net the donor/contractor just over $23 million.
The property owners donated over $20,000 to Martinez’s campaign and PACs – including $5000 to Martinez in March of 2014 and another $5200 (the maximum donation a company can give to a candidate) in October of that year, state records show.
Several senators objected because Martinez’s staff did not disclose the donations, even when asked, the Albuquerque Journal reported Saturday.
Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, an opponent of Neville’s bill from the outset, said the state regularly enters into lease agreements without enshrining them in law. He saw no reason why this case should be different, and his suspicions about the bill and those who might profiteer from it grew.
“It’s the classic Santa Fe pay to play,” Cervantes said. “… They wanted cover [through state legislation] so they couldn’t be accused of doing what Phil Griego did.”
Read the full story in the NM Political Report here.
Former senator faces corruption prosecution for failing to disclose connections to real estate deal
Senators and reporters were quick to draw a connection between Gov. Martinez and former Sen. Phil Griego. Griego resigned in 2014 after reporter Peter St. Cyr reported that Griego had failed to disclose that he had benefitted from a special real estate deal authorized by legislation he drafted.
Griego is now awaiting prosecution on corruption charges. (Read more on Griego here)
Earlier this week, Republican Senator Craig Brandt stated the process to override the governor’s veto of the “Teachers Are Human Too” bill.
The bill allowing teachers to use earned and negotiated sick days was vetoed by Martinez who said teachers should only be allowed three days off for sick leave per year, or be penalized in evaluations gang affect their licensing and pay.