Will the Albuquerque Journal cover the FBI investigation into their conservative friends?

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update: On the fourth day of the story, the Albuquerque Journal finally acknowledged the investigation.  The Journal’s investigative reporter covering the story also gave a big chunk of his column pointing fingers at the former Democratic Party chair and his staffer being sued by the governor’s top aides for an unrelated email hacking scandal.

Since New Mexico news outlets started reporting on the ongoing US Dept. of Justice investigation into Governor Martinez’s campaign and administration, most daily New Mexico news outlets have been tripping over themselves to add another angle, report on another witness interviewed or explain the people and money apparently at the center of what now appear to be multiple lines of investigation.

But not every daily news outlet has been so quick to report on the unfolding scandal the Democratic Party says shows an “administration in crisis.”

First, a look at the developing coverage.

The Santa Fe New Mexican was the first to confirm, through an unnamed source, that the FBI was interviewing Republican donors to Susana Martinez and the network of Republican PACs that have taken over New Mexico politics in recent years.

The first witness to break his silence came from the New Mexico Political Report.  Joey Peters interviewed a Martinez administration official who confirmed that he had been interviewed “10-20 times… most recently as August” and had turned over evidence to federal investigators.  His interviews centered around activities and activities conducted by Martinez appointees and within state agencies, a disclosure that, if true, greatly expands the scope of the federal investigation.

And on Sunday, the Santa Fe New Mexican was back with new allegations that “federal investigators subpoenaed documents from the department while looking into whether or not audits were performed in retaliation of former members of Martinez’s administration,” including the witness who spoke to the Political Report.

NMpoltics.net, KRWG Las Cruces, KRQE TV 13 and the Santa Fe Reporter have all reported various versions of those stories over the past 48 hours.

Media Watch NM

Media Watch NM

Several outlets have, so far, ignored the explosive political story.

Case in point: The Albuquerque Journal. And as the state’s largest newspaper and New Mexico’s paper of record their reporting matters.

To see how the state’s paper of record has covered similar scandals, we went all the way back to 2008 when the Journal first reported on a grand jury investigation into then-Governor Bill Richardson.

ABQ Journal: FBI Probes GRIP Contract
August 29, 2008, Page A1 (front page)
The FBI is investigating how a California firm won a state consulting contract worth almost $1 million in connection with the massive GRIP transportation bond program.

Agents have been interviewing people involved in awarding contracts to CDR Financial Products LLC, and are looking at its political contributions to political action committees established by Gov. Bill Richardson…

Against Gov. Richardson, then one of the nation’s highest profile Democrats and a prospective cabinet member for soon-to-be-elected President Barack Obama, the Journal ran a front-page story apparently based only on reports that persons connected to the governor had been interviewed by the FBI.

The Journal declined to name those persons they used as a source.

Over the next 18-months, the Journal ran at least 28 stories we could track exploring various theories about the people and money involved in the investigation.  Their reporting, amplified nationally, derailed Richardson’s bid for appointment to serve as Obama’s commerce secretary.

Fast forward to 2015 and a Republican governor and her network of political operatives, PACs and donors, supported by the paper’s editorial page, are at the center of a new FBI probe at least as developed as the 2008 one which the Journal chose to make front-page news.

Will the Journal’s owners and editors give staff the same charge to aggressively pursue the same story against Martinez as they did against Richardson?  So far, no.  But perhaps Monday’s paper will tell a different story. Perhaps.

If the Journal (or other outlets) decide to cover this story, here are some questions they should ask:

  • Operatives and attorneys working for Gov. Martinez aggressively pursued an email hacking case against former campaign manager Jamie Estrada after he published embarrassing emails obtained from the Martinez-administration’s private personal email accounts.  Anissa Ford, Martinez’s former assistant, allegedly received immunity for testifying about fundraising activities during the campaign, inauguration and early days of the administration when a network of PACs and non-profits were established just as the administration was issuing huge public contracts and making political appointments.  Did records disclosed by the staffer in the email case Martinez aggressively pursued lead the FBI to investigate her?  Oh, the irony…
  • Administration adversaries and whistleblowers have reported that they were targeted for tax audits resulting in tens-of-thousands of claims for unpaid taxes that were later determined to be unfounded. Did the same appointees and staff under investigation for trying to provide tax favors to former friendly clients also use their power to target administration opponents?
  • Republican PACs and campaigns have paid some of the same lawyers and law firms implicated in this investigation large legal retainers in recent months.  Does this investigation extend beyond Martinez to other campaigns and PACs managed and serviced by her top operative, Jay McCleskey and his network of corporations and PACs serving conservative candidates and causes?
  • Will these allegations of illegal activity relating to fundraising for Martinez and conservative causes she supports halt her ability to win coronation as the Chair of the Republican Governor’s Association when they meet in 10 days?  Scandal-plagued Chris Christie is the current chair responsible for raising big bucks to protect and elect Republican governors.  Martinez is the odds on favorite to succeed him but this new scandal – especially since it involves alleged illegal fundraising activities – could put those ambitions on ice much like the 2008 froze Richardson’s play for a cabinet position.

See?  There are plenty of angles and stories for the Journal to explore.  Enough to fill a whole section, in fact.

Maybe they will, but we’re not holding our breath.  Until they do, you should continue to call them out for their failure to report on the biggest political story of the year.

You can submit your comments to Journal editors at journal@abqjournal.com