Allegations of pay-to-play involving New Mexico’s investment dollars are back — this time, instead of a Democratic governor and his minions standing accused, it’s Republican Gov. Susana Martinez on the hot seat.
Scandal is bipartisan, it seems.
An investigation by the International Business Times and the nonprofit MapLight discovered that firms that handled state investments employed people who also contributed to GOP political groups and to Gov. Martinez herself. The governor — as did Richardson before her — is denying the charges.
However, that’s not stopping her from suggesting changes to the State Investment Council to remove all appearances of impropriety. Her solution, however, goes too far. She wants the Legislature to send her a bill that removes all elected officials from the council after their current terms end — that would mean no governor, no state treasurer and no commissioner of public lands. The 11-member council oversees state funds worth some $22 billion.
Previously, legislation was passed that would have removed an elected official — the governor. That bill, which Martinez vetoed in 2011, would have left the elected treasurer and land commissioner sitting on the council.
It makes sense for those officials to remain, given their duties. The treasurer manages certain state investments, and the land commissioner is responsible for generating the tax revenue that funds the investment council’s endowments. Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth is correct to say those office holders belong on the council. We prefer reform that does take the governor — any governor — out of the picture, except in regards to her or his appointments.
The accusations involving investments, which the governor and members of the SIC are denying vigorously, are not the only controversy members are facing right now, either. Currently, investment council members are embroiled in a battle over that code of conduct. GOP Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, Democratic Treasurer Tim Eichenberg and two other members, former state Sens. Tim Jennings and Leonard Lee Rawson, are refusing to sign the code, claiming it’s just a method of imposing secrecy.
The dispute likely will end up in court because the council has told the four dissenters they can’t participate in closed-door discussions or vote on matters discussed in private. Such exclusion means these council members would lack a voice on important issues. We are skeptical that a majority can forbid participation, especially over a code of conduct they believe is an attempt to stifle debate. Attorney General Hector Balderas is looking into whether members can be forced to sign a code of conduct, and we look forward to that opinion, and further, whether council members can be locked out for failing to do so.
It is beyond ironic that a governor who rode into office vowing to clean up corruption is now having to defend how business is done on her watch. We don’t know whether donations to campaigns helped certain firms win business, or whether people who want government business simply spread their campaign cash around.
What we do know is that by taking the governor out of the picture, he or she can influence through appointments, but not by sitting in on decisions. Kicking all elected officials off is overreach.