Thursday, October 25, 2007

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: INVESTIGATION COMPLETE

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
October 25, 2007


Last week when Attorney General Gary King announced an investigation of a Public Service Company of New Mexico lobbyist working for Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration during the last session of the Legislature was completed and no evidence of wrongdoing was found, a spokesman for the governor basically said, “I told you so.”

“It is unfortunate that the attorney general had to take the time to respond to these outrageous allegations that were designed to advance one person’s agenda,” Gilbert Gallegos told The Associated Press.

Gallegos might have been referring to Ben Luce of the watchdog group Break the Grip, which called for the investigation. Luce contends PNM lobbyist Art Hull helped Richardson win Republican votes to pass the Renewable Energy Transmission Authority bill. While the bill is supported by some environmentalist groups, Break the Grip claims the administration during the last session weakened the renewable-energy requirements in the bill, and the legislation will make it easier to transmit electricity generated by nuclear plants and coal-fired facilities.

But not to worry. Apparently the attorney general didn’t spend an outrageous amount of energy investigating the “outrageous” allegations.

Correspondence released by the Attorney General’s Office last week seems to indicate the AG basically is taking the governor’s chief of staff at his word that Hull did not lobby for energy bills that could affect PNM while he worked for PNM’s “loaned executive” program between November and April.

If I ever get in trouble, I hope I’m investigated this thoroughly.

Chief of Staff James Jimenez argued in his letter to the AG that because the state didn’t compensate Hull — PNM paid his salary — there was no violation of the state anti-donation clause. All Hull got from the state were a desk with a phone and computer, business cards, a badge and a parking space in the Capitol.

Those of us who had to trudge several blocks through the January snow to cover the Legislature might argue that a parking space shouldn’t be considered a nothing. But that’s a different story.

Jimenez in his letter said Hull was directed to not actively lobby on any matters that presented a possible conflict of interest.

“The only exposure Mr. Hull had to any energy-related matters was when he was approached by individuals such as legislators who had factual questions or wished to convey questions to the Governor’s Office,” Jimenez wrote.

Apparently some Republicans did have questions.

“With regards to the Renewable Energy Transmission Authority, there were a number of members of the House Republicans who had serious concerns about the legislation,” House Republican Leader Tom Taylor and House Republican Whip Dan Foley wrote in an opinion piece in The New Mexican in July. “Mr. Hull is an expert regarding transmission of electricity and was very familiar with the legislation. ... He discussed the concerns of our members and helped them see the protections in the legislation for the state of New Mexico, its citizens and the existing electrical infrastructure.

“He did not act as lobbyist by advising or recommending how to vote on the issue,” Taylor and Foley wrote. “He only provided factual explanations of what the bill contained.”

Let me get this straight: The House Republicans had concerns. Hull told them about the “protections” in the bill. Then they voted for it.

And that’s not lobbying, the Republican leaders and the Governor’s Office insists.

Maybe it’s only considered lobbying if you buy lunch for the legislators. According to secretary of state records, Hull spent only a modest $163 on food and beverages during the session. You call that lobbying?

7TH INNING STRETCH
Play ball!: Last week in this column, I pondered the possibility that in the event of a Colorado Rockies/Boston Red Sox World Series, would Richardson — a professed Sox fan, but the only Western governor in the presidential race — be in the position of rooting against our neighbors, the Major League Cinderella story of the year, the Rockies?

Richardson already got into hot water this year on Meet the Press by saying he’s a fan of both the Red Sox and the New York Yankees, which devotees of both teams say is nearly the equivalent of saying you love God as well as Satan.

But now it’s official. Asked Wednesday who the governor is for, a spokesman said in an e-mail, “After moving to (Massachusetts) to go to school, Richardson became a die-hard Red Sox fan and will be rooting for Boston to win.”

That’s probably a wise answer. Giving any props to the Rockies could be construed as a flip-flop. Besides, as I pointed out last week, the state of New Hampshire, home of the first presidential primary, is a hotbed of Soxmania.

So Richardson can sit back, enjoy the series and be glad he’s not Rudy Giuliani, whose hometown papers are running huge headlines proclaiming the former New York mayor to be a “Traitor!” and “Redcoat!” for saying he’s rooting for the Red Sox.

Plame on!: Outed spy Valerie Plame Wilson and her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, will make their New Mexico television debut on Lorene Mills’ Report from Santa Fe this Saturday.

Though the Santa Fe couple recently has been on several national shows to discuss her new book, Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by The White House, the show, which was taped last week in the Capitol television studio, will be their first time to be interviewed by a local television host. Mills promises that, unlike Larry King, she didn’t refer to her guest as “Valerie Flame.”

The program airs 6 a.m. Sunday on KNME, Channel 5.

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