UBS consultant also worked for Guv’s PAC « New Mexico Independent

There’s another fly caught in the web of connections between Richardson’s advisers, fundraisers and the companies doing business with the state. Fred DuVal was working as a consultant for financial services company UBS, trying to win business with the state of New Mexico, while at the same time he was helping to raise funds for Richardson’s ¡Si Se Puede! political action committee. According to Bloomberg News:

UBS credited DuVal & Associates, the lobbyist’s firm, with helping land an assignment to sell a portion of $1.1 billion of bonds for the New Mexico Finance Authority in April 2004, according to Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board records. That was two months after, Duval 54, was named as a director of ¡Si Se Puede! Boston 2004 Inc., a committee Richardson formed to pay Democratic presidential convention expenses, filings with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service show.

…DuVal said in an interview he didn’t play a role in landing the New Mexico authority bond deals for Zurich-based UBS and he hasn’t been contacted by investigators. The firm’s bankers already had ties with the administration, he said.

…According to filings with securities regulators, DuVal & Associates was paid $10,000 a month to find business for UBS in 10 states, including New Mexico.

DuVal’s firm “obtained or retained” underwriting duties on three authority bond deals in April 2004, totaling $1.1 billion, according to UBS records filed with the MSRB for the second quarter of 2004. DuVal said the bank may have credited his firm with arranging that work unnecessarily.

“There’s a tendency to over-report and be extra transparent,” he said.

DuVal is a member of the Arizona board of regents. His bio, posted on the regents’ Web site, reveals that he, “served as senior staff to former Arizona Governor Bruce Babbitt, where his portfolio included the Regents, and spent seven years in the Clinton Administration in Washington D.C.”

And according to Bloomberg, both DuVal and UBS gave money to the Guv:

DuVal…donated $1,000 to Richardson’s presidential campaign in March 2007, according to Federal Election Commission records. UBS contributed $25,000 to ¡Si Se Puede in June 2004, IRS records show.

DuVal said he played no role in that committee aside from agreeing to sign on as a director at its inception, and said there was no connection with the bond deals. He said he agreed to act as a director on the committee because he thought it may fund voter activity in his home state of Arizona. That never happened.

“My involvement was saying yes to lending my name and nothing after that,” he said.

As the Santa Fe New Mexican has reported, 

…¡Sí, Se Puede! raised $336,000 from the time it was formed in February 2004 until Nov. 19, 2004 — about four months after the convention — when Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. of New Jersey contributed $10,000 to the cause. 

Richardson’s then-political director Amanda Cooper was listed as executor director of the PAC. Other directors included David Smoak, a state Judicial Standards commissioner; Fred Duval, a Phoenix consultant; Denver lawyer Ted Trimpa; Washington, D.C., businessman Miguel Lausell; and banker and Richardson crony Guy Riordan. 

https://web.archive.org/web/http://newmexicoindependent.com:80/14914/gripgate-bed-check-ubs-consultant-also-worked-for-guvs-pac

Obama’s clear break with the past

We’ve had to postpone so much over the last eight years that the inauguration day of Barack Obama and Joe Biden feels as if the nation has arisen from a near fatal coma.

We’ve postponed a mature response to global warming, postponed the cleanup of toxic air and poisoned water, postponed seeing to it that Americans are no longer the health care serfs of the developed world, postponed rebuilding our bridges, roads, levees, postponed honoring our wounded soldiers with first class health care, postponed the technological recreation of the American economy, postponed full speed ahead development of alternative and renewable fuels, postponed, if not abandoned, the creation of meaningful and well paying jobs at home, postponed the inspiration of America’s youth to service, study, and self-improvement, and postponed a productive, serious, and inclusive American discourse on the problems that face us.

We’ve endured so many egregious attacks on our liberties over the last eight years that the morbid miasma seemed filled with prophetic newsreel images of nightmares of the past reborn. We’ve endured machinations to create an authoritarian presidency, endured the potential loss of habeas corpus by executive fiat, endured warrantless searches and evasions of privacy, endured the specter of indefinite detention without trial, endured an economic system that lavishes fabulous wealth on the stupendously wealthy and pauperizes everyone else.

We’ve had to hold our noses and move through the poison gas of hate speech politics for eight long years with so much venom spilled that you’d think we were on the verge of a civil war.

And now, despite all the darkness of those eight seemingly endless years, we see a break in the smog of history, a clear moment in which civility, innovation, social responsibility and economic justice might just have a chance to arise anew. This break with the past, with the Roveian American Reich of a “permanent” Republican majority, is based on the liberation of open-minded, inclusive and, we pray, transparent leadership, and not the false strength induced by the propaganda of fear. And nothing could be more welcome.

It’s not that this inauguration heals the terrible grief so many older Americans still feel from the murders of JFK, Dr. King, and Bobby Kennedy. But there is a sense that we have somehow survived a terrible tangle of outrageous fortune –- from free market banditry and a presidential Caesar who stonewalled the Congress and the nation for almost a decade, to the eroding of America’s environmental stewardship, a perfect storm of pollution and chaotic weather, an inflamed terrorist threat and a bottomed out international reputation in which America, that once stood for fairness and human rights, was for a long bitter moment perceived as no better than the feudal keeper of a dungeon.

Our economic woes go far beyond the bilking of stockholders, depositors, taxpayers and legions of retirement investors. We allowed eight years to pass, eight years in which the world moved inexorably closer to a financially catastrophic peak oil downturn. And we did nothing to prepare ourselves for the monumental energy changes ahead. The combination of robber barons and a willful failure to read the hand writing on the wall, has created a situation in which newly minted financial regulation may try to prop up the old order just as it is collapsing into a low energy transition depression.

The notion of a presidency with no checks and balances, staunchly supported by Alexander Hamiliton in his idea of an “elected monarch” all the way down to Dick Cheney and his idea of a totally top secret executive branch, will linger in the minds of would-be American tyrants for decades. They saw how spineless the Congress was, how compliant the Supreme Court turned out to be, and how shockingly effective a simple “no” to all requests for disclosure and accountability is, even in the face of destructive and farcical malfeasance. An autocrat who learns from Bushian denial and refusal, and his total mastery of public relations and the media, could shred the Constitution.

But perhaps we shall see in the next four years amendments to Article II of the Constitution which governs the presidency.

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Former investment officer alleges pay-to-play in Richardson administration

Frank Foy, left, is alleging a pay-to-play scheme involving state investments. His attorney, Victor Marshall, is seated to the right.

Frank Foy sent a clarion call Wednesday. Wanted: an army of whistle-blowers to uncover evidence of pay-to-play anywhere in New Mexico.

“I would strongly urge anyone else who might have suspicion of pay-to-play anywhere within the state, whether it’s in state government, city government, municipal government, county government, to come forward,” Foy said.

Foy, a former chief investment officer at a state board, appeared to be leading the charge Wednesday when he came forward to allege that he had been pressured to award contracts and make investments that would reward political campaign contributors of Governor Bill Richardson.

Foy, who until last summer worked for the Education Retirement Board, is alleging in a 26-page complaint unsealed Wednesday that pressure was exerted on officers at his former agency and at the State Investment Council, to make investments that ultimately lost the state nearly $90 million.

Education Retirement Board chairman and Albuquerque accountant Bruce Malott, a Richardson appointee, pressured him to invest, he said.

“I just knew, for the first time in my career at ERB, I was instructed to talk to a bond salesman,” Foy said Wednesday, referring to a salesman attempting to interest him in securities touted by a Chicago-based firm, Vanderbilt Capital. Vanderbilt gave more than $15,000 to Gov. Richardson’s presidential campaign.

When Foy tried to resist, he said he was demoted, then forced to retire this past summer.

The suit also alleges that State Investment Officer Gary Bland also pushed Vanderbilt at his agency.

Malott, and spokesmen for the governor and Bland, strongly denounced Foy’s complaint Wednesday and questioned his motives in filing it.

“I simply lost faith in Mr. Foy’s appropriateness for the position,” Malott said in a telephone interview. “It is most unfortunate that he now seeks to exploit recent headlines for his personal vendetta against me.”

Charles Wollman, a spokesman for Bland, said Foy’s assertions were without merit and that “his motivations are questionable at best.”

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the governor called Foy’s claims “absurd” and labeled Foy “a disgruntled former employee who was accused of serious misconduct during his time as a state employee.”

“The Governor is confident that the state agencies named in this lawsuit acted properly and in the best interest of New Mexicans,” said Richardson’s spokesman Gilbert Gallegos.

Foy acknowledged that he was accused and found guilty of three counts of sexual harassment, “even though I denied all three of them vigorously.”

“I felt it was a sham by senior management to force my hand to get me to quit or retire,” Foy said.

As to being disgruntled, Foy said, “I guess I can be considered disgruntled given the fact that I was railroaded out of my job.”

Accusations Snowball

However the case may end up, Foy’s allegations come at a bad time for Richardson, whose administration already has come under a shadow because of a separate federal probe investigating an alleged pay-to-play scheme at the New Mexico Finance Authority.

In that case, federal prosecutors are investigating whether a California firm, CDR Financial Products, got state work in return for large contributions it gave to two political action committees started by Richardson, ¡Si Se Puede! and Moving America Forward.

The investigation cost Richardson the commerce secretary job in President-elect Barack Obama’s cabinet.

Foy said he had not been contacted in that case by federal prosecutors, but he has been contacted by the federal Securities and Exchange Commission.

Foy’s complaint lists multiple defendants besides Vanderbilt, Malott and Bland. Several financial services firms, including JP Morgan Chase and UBS are named. The suit also has 50 unnamed defendants who are known as John Doe #1 through John Doe #50.

JP Morgan and UBS both have figured tangentially in the ongoing federal probe involving CDR. And a UBS AG consultant served as a fund-raising committee director on one of Richardson’s political action committees while the bank says he helped it win state bond work, records show.

Both JP Morgan and UBS sold a portion of $1.1 billion of bonds for the New Mexico Finance Authority in April 2004, which helped to finance the state’s high-profile transportation program — GRIP, short for Governor Richardson’s Investment Partnership. CDR advised the finance authority on interest rate SWAPs related to the bond issue.

The investment at the heart of Foy’s complaint is unrelated to the GRIP bond issue, and CDR’s advice to the finance authority.

Concerted Pressure

The investment occurred in August 2006 after what he said was concerted pressure to do business with Vanderbilt. At the time, Foy was in the process of hiring outside money managers to take over investing about a third of the Education Retirement Board’s then-$8.5 billion public pension plan for New Mexico educators and school employees. Until then, he had invested that portion. It was then that he was told to speak to the bond salesman representing Vanderbilt, Foy said.

“The bottom line is the fix was in,” said Foy’s attorney, Victor Marshall. “It became apparent before the investment was made that certain people, including Gary Bland and Bruce Malott, were determined to make this investment with, of all people, Vanderbilt, whoever they are, among the hundreds of people who offer various products.”

Several months later, contributions from people associated with Vanderbilt Capital starting coming into Richardson’s presidential campaign. A total of $15,100 was given over a period from February 2007 to February 2008, records show.

“This happened a few months after the investment,”’ Marshall said. “That is not untypical. If there is a pay-to-play scheme sometimes it happens before. If the people are really stupid, they do it the same day, or right around the same time.”

After the investment, Vanderbilt paid out two dividends totaling $4 million, and then they stopped.

Ultimately the Vanderbilt investment resulted in nearly $90 million in losses — $50 million put in by the State Investment Council and $40 million from the ERB.

Foy is seeking about $300 million in damages to be paid to the state of New Mexico under a 2007 law that allows a citizen to recover three times the amount of money lost to fraud committed against taxpayers.

Foy’s complaint was unsealed Wednesday after the state Attorney General decided not to prosecute it, Marshall said. The complaint originally was filed in July.

A Troubled Fund

Foy’s complaint is not the first time the Education Retirement Board has been in the news.

In 2005, ERB was projecting a $2.4 billion shortfall and although it was able to pay benefits to its retirees, the future looked bleak. That year, a bill sponsored by State Rep. Lucky Varela lifted restrictions on ERB and other state funds (such as the State allowing them to invest in “alternatives” such as hedge funds, eliminating a “legal list” of allowable investments, and replacing it with guiding principles of the Uniform Prudent Investor Act (UPIA). It was one of several attempts that year to broaden investment possibilities for the state.

At the time, Foy was ERB’s chief investment officer.

Alternative investments are also at the heart of GRIPgate; CDR, the firm at the center of the probe, advised the New Mexico Finance Authority on interest rate SWAPS.

ERB was one of many pension funds recently affected by Bernard Madoff’s alleged Ponzi scheme. The fund could lose as much as $10 million on Madoff-related investments with Austin Capital Management, the AP reported in December.

NMI’s Heath Haussamen and Gwyneth Doland contributed to this report.

https://web.archive.org/web/http://newmexicoindependent.com:80/15070/former-investment-officer-alleges-pay-to-play-in-richardson-administration

Balderas asks prosecutors to look at housing audit

State Auditor Hector Balderas has completed and is asking prosecutors to take a look at a long-awaited special audit of the state’s scandal-plagued regional housing authority system.

Balderas is also releasing the special audit and other reports to the public today. The move follows a two-year investigation that began when the state Legislature asked him to take a look at the state’s affordable housing system in early 2007. Balderas says his work confirms previous reports detailing widespread problems with the system.“In my opinion, the five regional housing authorities audited by my office were plagued by weak internal controls and a lack of adequate oversight,” Balderas said today in a news release. “The poorly managed fiscal operations were a colossal failure to low-income citizens and the state of New Mexico.”

The attorney general’s office has already been investigating — most of the housing authority system collapsed in 2006 — and plans to take its case before a grand jury next month. How the auditor’s work might affect the attorney general’s plans is not immediately clear, and the AG’s office does not comment on or even confirm grand jury proceedings because they are secret.

In addition to referring the audit to the AG, Balderas is referring it to the FBI.

The scandal began when one of seven regional housing authorities in New Mexico, the Albuquerque-based Region III authority, defaulted on $5 million in bonds it owed the state in mid-2006. Soon thereafter, the State Investment Council released a report that found widespread misuse of the bond money, which was supposed to be spent on houses. Instead, almost $600,000 went to former Region III Director Vincent “Smiley” Gallegos as salary and benefits. Almost $700,000 was loaned to the Las Cruces-based Region VII authority, which did little to provide affordable housing and has since shut down.

Perhaps the most intriguing misuse of money revealed in the investment council report was a $300,000 loan the housing authority made to a private company owned by Gallegos under the guise of purchasing more than 30 lots in Las Cruces — lots that had already been purchased by the authority.

In 2007, the Legislature gave Balderas’ office $200,000 to perform an accounting of all Region III assets, because the situation was such a mess that it was difficult to even determine what had happened and how much was lost. Last year, the Legislature extended the appropriation and asked Balderas to conduct a special audit.

Balderas’ office had to conduct 15 financial audits for the regional authorities that had never been completed before conducting its larger, special audit of the system.

In today’s news release, Balderas said his office found that two of the seven regional authorities are current with their audits and fiscally sound. He referred in the release to the other five, including regions III and VII, as “troubled.” Most have shut down since the scandal began.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gov Diane Denish and Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, are pushing a bill in the 60-day legislative session that begins Tuesday that would reform the housing authority system to restructure them and expand oversight.

NMI hopes to have a more detailed report on the audit findings later today.

https://web.archive.org/web/http://newmexicoindependent.com/15092/balderas-asks-prosecutors-to-look-at-housing-audit

Anti-corruption bill boomerangs on Guv

State Auditor Hector Balderas has completed and is asking prosecutors to take a look at a long-awaited special audit of the state’s scandal-plagued regional housing authority system.

Balderas is also releasing the special audit and other reports to the public today. The move follows a two-year investigation that began when the state Legislature asked him to take a look at the state’s affordable housing system in early 2007. Balderas says his work confirms previous reports detailing widespread problems with the system.“In my opinion, the five regional housing authorities audited by my office were plagued by weak internal controls and a lack of adequate oversight,” Balderas said today in a news release. “The poorly managed fiscal operations were a colossal failure to low-income citizens and the state of New Mexico.”

The attorney general’s office has already been investigating — most of the housing authority system collapsed in 2006 — and plans to take its case before a grand jury next month. How the auditor’s work might affect the attorney general’s plans is not immediately clear, and the AG’s office does not comment on or even confirm grand jury proceedings because they are secret.

In addition to referring the audit to the AG, Balderas is referring it to the FBI.

The scandal began when one of seven regional housing authorities in New Mexico, the Albuquerque-based Region III authority, defaulted on $5 million in bonds it owed the state in mid-2006. Soon thereafter, the State Investment Council released a report that found widespread misuse of the bond money, which was supposed to be spent on houses. Instead, almost $600,000 went to former Region III Director Vincent “Smiley” Gallegos as salary and benefits. Almost $700,000 was loaned to the Las Cruces-based Region VII authority, which did little to provide affordable housing and has since shut down.

Perhaps the most intriguing misuse of money revealed in the investment council report was a $300,000 loan the housing authority made to a private company owned by Gallegos under the guise of purchasing more than 30 lots in Las Cruces — lots that had already been purchased by the authority.

In 2007, the Legislature gave Balderas’ office $200,000 to perform an accounting of all Region III assets, because the situation was such a mess that it was difficult to even determine what had happened and how much was lost. Last year, the Legislature extended the appropriation and asked Balderas to conduct a special audit.

Balderas’ office had to conduct 15 financial audits for the regional authorities that had never been completed before conducting its larger, special audit of the system.

In today’s news release, Balderas said his office found that two of the seven regional authorities are current with their audits and fiscally sound. He referred in the release to the other five, including regions III and VII, as “troubled.” Most have shut down since the scandal began.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gov Diane Denish and Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, are pushing a bill in the 60-day legislative session that begins Tuesday that would reform the housing authority system to restructure them and expand oversight.

NMI hopes to have a more detailed report on the audit findings later today.

https://web.archive.org/web/http://newmexicoindependent.com/15092/balderas-asks-prosecutors-to-look-at-housing-audit

Udall votes for auto bailout; Wilson, Pearce vote against it

U.S. Rep. Tom Udall voted for a $14 billion bailout for American automobile companies Wednesday evening, while U.S. Reps. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce voted against it.

The bill was approved on a vote of 237-170 and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Interestingly, Udall, a Democrat, joined the Republican Pearce in voting against the $700 billion financial bailout earlier this year, while the GOP’s Wilson voted for that bailout bill.

In explaining today’s vote, Udall said the bill will prevent the collapse of the American automobile industry. He said such a collapse would cost an estimated 10,500 jobs in New Mexico — or 1.4 percent of the state’s total work force — that pay a combined $58.5 million in wages each year.

“Today, the House decided whether or not to let two of America’s largest companies collapse and take thousands of New Mexico jobs with them,” Udall said in a news release. “I voted to protect American workers, to reform the auto industry and to produce millions of cleaner, greener cars.”

Wilson, meanwhile, said in a statement that she voted against the bill because it “adds another level of government bureaucracy. It does this without providing sufficient guarantees that the auto manufacturers will follow their promises to restructure their company’s business practices and contractual obligations.”

“Nothing in this legislation is sufficient to prevent these companies from demanding another bailout several months down road,” Wilson said. “Congress should support legislation that protects the American manufacturing jobs without harming the taxpayer.”

The bill doesn’t appropriate any new money for the bailout. Instead, according to The Associated Press, it redirects funds already set aside to help carmakers make changes in their factories that are necessary to build more fuel-efficient automobiles. The bill would almost immediately provide cash to General Motors and Chrysler. Ford would also be eligible for money.

There’s no certainty the bill will pass the Senate, but if it does, the president is expected to sign it. Many senators — most Republicans — have already voiced their opposition to the bill.

Udall, who is joining the Senate next year, said the bill contains oversight and strong checks on use of the money.

“This legislation does not spend one additional taxpayer dollar. These funds were previously appropriated to modernize the auto industry,” he said. “More importantly, the bill provides increased oversight to ensure that taxpayer dollars help American workers and drivers, not stockholders or executives. It mandates that our money will not be spent on executive salaries, dividends or corporate jets. It institutes unprecedented controls to protect the people’s money from misuse. Most importantly, it ensures that Detroit can no longer continue with business as usual.”

Pearce did not release a statement following today’s vote.

https://web.archive.org/web/http://newmexicoindependent.com:80/12287/udall-votes-for-auto-bailout-wilson-pearce-vote-against-it

Wilson, Pearce square off | New Mexico Independent

The May 17 debate, televised by KNME, was sponsored by the Chaves Count Republican Women and the Chaves County Republican County.

Early on, there was some interesting squabbling over debate format, with U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, an Albuquerque Republican, pushing for rebuttal time. Fellow U.S. Rep. Pearce, on the other hand, a Hobbs Republican, seemed content to stick with whatever prevented Wilson from rebutting his most recent charge.

“Could you explain the rules?” Wilson asked at one point with an edge to her voice. “They seem to have changed.”

The debate featured a surprising about of disgreement between the two Republican Senate hopefuls. Wilson chided Pearce for recently voting against the so-called Farm Bill, saying that bill would harm the state’s dairy industry.

Pearce, not to be outdone, pressed charges of his own. Among them, he said Wilson had broken a no-new-taxes pledge (a charge she denied), that she opposed the troop surge in Iraq, and that she supproted “drivers’ licenses for illegals.”

Wilson’s response: “We shoudln’t have drivers’ licenses for illegal aliens,” adding, however, that she does not favor a national ID card.

There were more sharp exchanges, like Peacre’s responce to a question about high gas prices. “We must drill,” he said. Wilson, on the other hand, said she supported a “balanced energy policy,” that includes both increased production and conservation.

One issue on which both candidte’s agreed: they both support the USA Patriot Act.

And all that happened during the first half of the debate!

The AP’s Heather Clark wrote this dispatch follwing the debate, including the thoughts of a couple Republican voters who are beginning to make of their minds, in addition to each candidate’s own electibility argument.

In case you missed it this past weekend, watch the debate here.

The debate is split up over two parts. The above video is the first half; the second half is below.

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https://web.archive.org/web/http://newmexicoindependent.com:80/1220/wilson-pearce-square-off

New Mexico Independent » Udall says opponents using push polls

Though Democratic Senate candidate Tom Udall faces no primary opposition, he is still facing some opposition of a different sort in the weeks leading up to the June 3 primary.

According to an e-mail to supporters from Udall campaign manager Amanda Cooper, a group from Ohio is using “push-polls” to spread information about Udall.

We’ve just received some disturbing news from one of our staff—the GOP “Swift Boat” attacks on Tom Udall have begun here in New Mexico. She got an automated “push-poll” phone call from an organization misleadingly calling itself “Common Sense Issues” this weekend. This group has been caught push-polling for Mike Huckabee in Iowa and the firm they used to make those calls has been fined in multiple states for violating the law. Now they’re here slinging mud at Tom Udall.

Neither Amanda Cooper nor Common Sense Issues was available for comment.

According to the American Association for Public Opinion Research, a push poll “is an insidious form of negative campaigning, disguised as a political poll.”Some attributes of a push-poll, as opposed to a legitimate poll, include:

  • One or only a few questions are asked, all about a single candidate or a single issue.
  • The questions are uniformly strongly negative (or sometimes uniformly positive) descriptions of the candidate or issue.
  • The organization conducting the calls is not named, or a phony name is used.
  • Evasive answers are given in response to requests for more information about the survey.

There can sometimes be a fine line between message polling and push polling. Mark Blumenthal, editor and publisher of Pollster.com, writes of examples in New York’s 20th Congressional District and Arizona’s 8th District as well as polls by Clinton in Iowa that toe the line between push polling and message testing.

It seems all outside observers agree, however, what Common Sense Issues is known for is push polling.

TPMMuckraker looked into the group while they were making calls in support of Mike Huckabee. The group’s tactics included accusing McCain of voting “to allow scientific experiments to be done on unborn children.”

While Cooper referred to the calls as ”’Swift Boat’ attacks,” Common Sense Issues is different from Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (SBVT), the group created to attack John Kerry, D-Mass., in the 2004 presidential election against George W Bush. SBVT was a so-called 527 organization, groups that are named for the tax code under which they filed. In this case, Common Sense Issues is a qualified non-profit, which are, according to Public Citizen, “incorporated non-profits that accept little or no corporate or union treasury funds, are not affiliated with any corporation or union, and whose exclusive purpose is political rather than business-oriented.”

The groups can advocate on behalf of a particular candidate, but cannot coordinate with that candidate’s campaign in any way.

Newsweek reported on Common Sense Issues and their work in support of Mike Huckabee.

Common Sense Issues is a tax-exempt group registered in Delaware whose organizers have acknowledged the use of controversial telephone polling tactics to promote Huckabee’s presidential bid — and allegedly to trash the campaigns of the former Arkansas governor’s rivals. The nonprofit also helped set up and run Trusthuckabee.com, a Web site that was involved in front-line efforts to recruit and mobilize Huckabee supporters to turn out for the Iowa caucuses.

Rival candidates have criticized Common Sense Issues’s tactics, questioning whether the group’s ties to the Huckabee campaign are really arms-length — as required by federal law. Huckabee has distanced itself from Common Sense Issues, renouncing its support and joining his rivals in calling for investigations into the nonprofit’s activities.

While the group gained the most notoriety from their work in the presidential election with the phone calls, they have also done work in Senate races, including against U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo. Mark Udall is a cousin to Tom Udall and is running for Senate against former U.S. Rep. Bob Schaffer, R-Colo. The group aired two TV ads in Colorado targeting Mark Udall in December, according to The Denver Post.

The ads against Mark Udall focused on his support for drilling off the coast of Cuba and for his support of the Department of Peace bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio.

Common Sense Issues is not the first qualified non-profit to be involved in the New Mexico Senate race. Lilke Common Sense Issues, the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund is not a 527 group, but a qualified non-profit and launched the Two Bad 4 New Mexico campaign, which includes two TV advertisements, a radio advertisement and a Spanish-language radio advertisement. The group is also actively canvassing in Albuquerque on behalf of Tom Udall.

The Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund is actively opposing both Republican U.S. Reps. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce. Wilson and Pearce are both vying for the Republican nomination and the chance to face Tom Udall, who is unopposed by any other Democrat, in the general election in November.

The Common Sense Issues Web site, which seems to still be under construction, lists among its issues, “Life Issues,” “Liberty” and “Radical Islam.”

Update:  Steve Terrell of the Santa Fe New Mexican writes the push poll is on behalf of Steve Pearce and also takes shots at Heather Wilson:

An automated “push poll” being conducted by a national conservative group in New Mexico’s U.S. Senate race is praising Republican candidate Steve Pearce while saying negative things about his Republican opponent Heather Wilson and the unopposed Democratic candidate Tom Udall.

https://web.archive.org/web/http://newmexicoindependent.com/1250/udall-says-opponents-using-push-polls

Obama, McCain in Dead Heat « New Mexico Independent

SurveyUSA released a KOB-TV commissioned poll today looking at the presidential race.

The poll, vastly different from the Rasmussen poll from this weekend, shows Barack Obama and John McCain in a dead heat for New Mexico’s five electoral votes.

Both candidates receive 44 percent of the vote, with 12 percent undecided, according to SurveyUSA.

SurveyUSA polled 600 registered voters  May 16 -18. The margin of error for the poll is ± 4.1 percent. SurveyUSA will poll the same matchups in 17 states; New Mexico was the first, and Pennsylvania is the second.

Interesting numbers include high percentages of undecideds among Democrats and independents. A full 14 percent of Democrats are currently undecided, while 17 percent of independents responded the same way. Only 7 percent of Republicans reported being undecided.

Also, Obama leads in Bernalillo County, where about one-third of all New Mexicans live, 47 percent to 42 percent.

The survey also began looking at potential vice presidential match-ups in the state.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Sen. Joe Lieberman and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty were all polled as potential running mates for McCain. All but independent Lieberman are Republicans. For Obama, the potential running mates were former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel. Hagel is a Republican and the rest are Democrats.

McCain polled strongest with Huckabee as his running mate. Obama polled strongest with Edwards on the ballot. This may be a function of high name recognition for the two former presidential candidates, however.

Edwards also appeared on the ballot with John Kerry in 2004.

In that election, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney defeated Kerry and Edwards by just over 6,000 votes. It was the closest margin of victory in the presidential election of any state in 2004.

Obama lost the New Mexico caucuses to Hillary Clinton by fewer than 2000 votes. The Republican primary will occur on June 3.

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Tapping into hidden resources | New Mexico Independent

ALBUQUERQUE — Looking out at the urban sprawl on Albuquerque’s arid perimeter, it’s easy to envision an army of construction workers putting up block after block of cookie-cutter homes and developers hawking subdivisions as far as the eye can see. What’s harder to envision is the water for all those additional toilets, lawns and sinks.

But Sandoval County and a corporate partner are betting that the water is already there, just waiting to be tapped and cleaned. It will cost them millions of dollars to know for sure, and tens of millions more to get the water flowing, but the partners say wringing the salt out of brackish water from deep beneath the Rio Puerco drainage is their best bet to keep the houses coming.

The county and Recorp Partners Inc. are jumping on the desalination bandwagon, and by all appearances they’re getting on early. A new national report says desalination of brackish water could be a new source of an increasingly rare commodity — clean drinking water — but that many questions remain, including potential environmental side effects.

Recent advances in technology have made removing salt from seawater and groundwater a realistic option for increasing water supplies in some parts of the U.S., and desalination will likely have a niche in meeting the nation’s future water needs…. However, a coordinated research effort with steady funding is required to better understand and minimize desalination’s environmental impacts — and find ways to further lower its costs and energy use.

And New Mexico could end up playing a major role in that “coordinated research effort” as a new federal facility near Alamogordo prepares to begin work.

Another city, built from scratch

The ancestral residents in what is now Sandoval County chose to settle in the relatively lush Rio Grande Valley, where they had easy access to water. While newcomers to the county located between Albuquerque and Santa Fe have had to build farther from the river, that hasn’t kept the county from growing. Its biggest city, Rio Rancho, sprang out of the barren mesa on the northwest edge of Albuquerque in the 1960s and is the third-largest community in the state, with nearly 80,000 residents.

Now Recorp Partners, a Scottsdale, Ariz., developer, wants to build what some have called a “second Rio Rancho” in Sandoval County. Recorp has proposed to turn 12,000 acres of empty land west of Rio Rancho into a new city, Rio West. The plan calls for 30,000 homes, plus businesses, an airport, schools, parks, and, naturally, a golf course.

The catch is water.

In the old days, cities such as Albuquerque and Rio Rancho could provide water to their residents by buying surface water rights and pumping water out of the Rio Grande and other rivers or by drilling into ancient aquifers and tapping into the clean water. Many southwestern cities have done both.

But with an ever-growing population competing for a small slice of New Mexico’s total water supply (9 percent is used for drinking water, 76 percent for agriculture), competition for water is fierce. Water is not just fully allocated to existing users, it’s over-allocated, Laura Paskus wrote last year in a comprehensive story in the Santa Fe Reporter.

Sandoval County has seen its share of disputes over water, said county Water Planner Guy Bralley. After one such incident in Placitas, the county commission made a pre-emptive strike and said that, henceforth, developers in unincorporated areas must show they have a 100-year supply of water before a development is approved.

For Recorp, that meant either drilling wells or buying surface water rights from agricultural users, neither of which looked feasible, Bralley said. The aquifers are spoken for, while water rights could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Desalination, while expensive, looked like a better alternative, Bralley said.

“How are you going to keep growing,” he asked. “That’s the million-dollar question.”

Flood of desalination projects ahead?

Coastal communities have been taking the salt out of seawater for years, but inland cities are starting to join them out of need. El Paso was in danger of exhausting its aquifer when it decided to build a desalination plant, according to El Paso Water Utilities. Opened in 2007 at a cost of $87 million — including $27 million in federal funding — it churns out 27.5 million gallons of fresh water a day, or roughly a quarter of the city’s demand.

Tucson, Phoenix and Las Vegas are pondering desalination projects, too.

In early April, the state District Court in Alamogordo cleared the way for that city to tap the Tularosa Basin for about 1.3 billion gallons of brackish water a year. Work has already started on the desalination plant.

Other inland communities in New Mexico and beyond could follow suit as desalination technology improves, costs decline and environmental hurdles are overcome. Answering those challenges is exactly what Congress intended when it established the Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Research Facility in Alamogordo. The facility, operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, opened its doors last year but is just now starting to accept research projects, said manager John Walp. New Mexico State University and Sandia National Laboratories, through its Water Initiative, are partners, but the facility is open to other research proposals, he said.

The National Research Council study released last week says environmental research should be the highest priority, particularly in the field of energy use. One type of desalination, reverse osmosis, uses 10 times more energy than traditional treatment of surface water, the report says, and its authors urged researchers to look into integrating solar, wind and other alternative energy sources to lower the carbon footprint of desalination.

Sandoval work just beginning

Sandoval County and Recorp already have drilled two wells in the Rio Puerco basin that hit a large reservoir of brackish water. Because the aquifer is more than 2,500 feet below the surface and because the salinity is extremely high — about one-third the salinity of seawater — the partners don’t need water rights or permission from the Office of the State Engineer to use the water.

They do, however, need a state permit before they can determine how much water lies below, which is a key to the project’s feasibility. Testing will require the wells to run continuously at 300 gallons per minute for a month, Bralley said. That’s nearly 13 million gallons of brackish water that must be contained or used, and the state Environment Department has to OK the water disposal plan. The testing should be accomplished this summer, he said.

Beyond the big question — is there enough water for 100 years? — there are dozens more questions that must be answered before work might begin. One of the big ones is what to do with the toxic waste salt. Coastal desalination plants can dilute it and send it back into the ocean; inland plants may be able to inject it deep underground, but only if the area’s geology allows it. “You don’t want it creeping off to other places,” Bralley said. Otherwise it might have to be stored in lined pits.

Energy costs are unknown now, but could be substantial, he said. Recorp has installed equipment at the site to see if wind or solar energy might be used, but alternative energy sources would likely have to be combined with natural gas or electric power, he added.

The total cost of the project won’t be known until more questions are answered, but the bills are coming in already. Each of the two test wells cost about $2 million to drill, Bralley said, and other work is expected to bring the total of this exploratory phase to about $6 million. The county had asked for financial help from the state Water Trust Board on the preliminary planning, but the request was nixed last week.

Sandoval County and Recorp last year agreed to split the costs and the water, once it comes. The county will pay 66 percent of the expenses in exchange for any water beyond that required by Recorp, Bralley said. The company has claims on the first 18,000 acre-feet per year — nearly 9 billion gallons — which is expected to be enough for the proposed community, but may not need that much until Rio West develops. In the meantime, the county could sell the unused water to Rio Rancho or other communities, he said.

There’s no doubt the plant will be expensive — $20 million is “on the low end,” Bralley said, and some published estimates put it at $40 million. But the people and businesses of the booming Southwest need water, he said, and desalination appears to be the least expensive route. “There’s a fair number of things you can do if you’re willing to pay the price,” he said.

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