Thursday, September 15, 2005

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: RAISING FUNDS FOR WHAT?

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Sept. 15, 2005


Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards talked a lot about the “two Americas” when he ran for president — and later vice president — last year.

Tonight he’ll be in New Mexico speaking to the America that can afford to pay $1,000 to go to a political shindig.

Edwards is the scheduled guest of honor at a fundraiser for a political action committee started by state Attorney Patricia Madrid. The event is planned for Los RondeƱa Winery in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque.

Madrid was Edwards’ state campaign manager for last year’s New Mexico Democratic presidential caucus. On one visit to the state Edwards referred to Madrid as “my rock star.”

Most national political observers believe Edwards is running for president again.

What’s uncertain are Madrid’s political plans. Her term is up at the end of next year and she is legally prohibited from seeking a third term.

In addition to the fundraiser, Edwards also is scheduled to speak today at a luncheon of the New Mexico Council on Crime and Delinquency and an event to support the proposed minimum wage increase in Albuquerque.

The money raised at the winery will go to Madrid’s PAC, Justice for America (not the Justice League of America, as I mistakenly said a couple times around the office Wednesday.) The stated purpose of the PAC is for “supporting and mentoring minority women in politics.”

In the most recent report filed with the secretary of state, the PAC had raised $93,500 between December 2004 and May 2005.

Madrid spokeswoman Caroline Buerkle said Tuesday that the funds eventually could be used for a campaign if Madrid runs for a state office.

However campaign finance laws prohibit money from a state PAC — like Justice for America — to be used in a campaign for federal office. There has been some speculation that Madrid might run for the Congressional seat held by Republican Heather Wilson.

Buerkle declined to comment about her bosses’ political intentions but said to expect an announcement in the near future.

Wouldn’t it be ironic: If someone took out a payday loan to go see John Edwards — just one day after Madrid called for tougher restrictions on payday loans?

Speaking of fundraisers: Gov. Bill Richardson had one for his re-election campaign Tuesday night at the Eldorado Hotel. But tickets to that only cost $50. Of course Edwards wasn’t there. Edwards and Richardson very well could end up as rivals in the 2008 presidential contest.

Richardson’s political director Amanda Cooper said Wednesday that about 300 people attended.

A growing force: The Bill Richardson Flack Army is adding another member. On Monday Jon Goldstein, who currently is director of communications at the state Environmental Department, will go to work at the governor’s communications office.

He will join Billy Sparks, Gilbert Gallegos, Pahl Shipley and Yasine Mogharreban in spreading the word about the “bold,” “innovative,” “dramatic” and “historic” actions of the administration to “move New Mexico forward” and “help the working families.”

But Shipley said Wednesday that Sparks, whose title is “deputy chief of staff for communications” will be doing more work in areas like homeland security, emergency response and immigration and less work with the news media. Shipley recently was given the title “director of communications.”

The governor’s staff didn’t add a new position, Shipley said. Richardson’s education policy adviser Liz Gutierrez is going to work for the new Department of Higher Education, so the governor’s staff remains at 49 — which is nearly twice the number he started out with two years ago.

The current fourth-floor press machine replaced Gov. Gary Johnson’s one-woman press office, Diane Kinderwater.

Feasting and freezing: In last week’s Roundhouse Round-up I wrote about Sen. Joe Carraro’s call for an investigation of Public Service Company of New Mexico for giving huge bonuses to its top executives while drastically increasing the cost of natural gas to its customers.

A PNM spokesman on Wednesday said he believes there are misconceptions about the company. “We don’t make a profit on the cost of gas,” said spokesman Don Brown. “We purchase gas on behalf of our customers and pass on the cost. The only way we make money on gas is on the delivery. But that’s only about 25 percent of the gas bill.”

Bonuses at PNM, Brown said are based on the financial performance of the company. “It has nothing to do with natural gas,” he insisted. “The customers don’t pay for the bonuses, the stockholders do.”

Brown admitted that it looks bad when the utility is talking about 60-70 hikes in heating bills while at the same time handing a bonus check of more than $900,000 to CEO Jeff Sterba earlier this year. Bonuses and salaries for PNM's top five executives totaled $3.1 million last year, up from $2.6 million in 2003.

But don’t expect the top PNM brass to forego their bonuses as a part of any p.r. move, Brown said. “We’re looking for real ways to help our customers,” he said. “The price of gas and employee bonuses are completely unrelated.”

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