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Bernalillo County econ official moonlights on political campaigns
ALBUQUERQUE — One of Bernalillo County’s key financial decision-makers has been moonlighting as a political consultant, doing paid campaign work for state legislators who support a project he helped to oversee, as well as for other politicians he calls his friends.
Bernalillo County’s economic development coordinator Daniel Gutierrez received more than $40,000 this year working for the campaigns of elected officials who support the sprawling development proposed for Albuquerque’s West Side by California-based SunCal, records show. As economic development coordinator, Gutierrez participated in the process that determined how much taxpayer money Bernalillo County would commit to the proposed development.
Records show that Gutierrez’s political consulting company, Two Roads Media and Politics, was paid $40,691 for campaign work it provided for three incumbent state lawmakers — state senators Linda Lopez and Bernadette Sanchez and state representative Dan Silva — all of whom voted to approve the SunCal plans and received contributions from SunCal or its affiliate, Westland Development Corp.
The work Gutierrez provided in the months leading up to this year’s June primary election included helping to create and line up businesses to make mailers, signs and logos.
At least one member of Bernalillo County’s ethics board said Gutierrez’s outside work raises ethical questions about a conflict of interest.
“Based on the information provided, I believe it raises a reasonable suspicion whether there may be a conflict of interest” under the county ethics code “that should be addressed by the county board of ethics,” said member Don Bruckner.
The county prohibits any of its public officials or employees from engaging in work that is incompatible with their duties or would impair their independent judgment in the performance of those duties.
“I think there is a need to decide what the proper parameters are for someone who is a county employee, who has the same right to participate in the political process as anyone else, but needs to make sure that they’re not acting in a way that could be a conflict of interest with their official duties,” Bruckner said.
Asked whether he will bring the Gutierrez issue before the county as an issue that might need to be addressed, Bruckner said, “I intend to.”
Bruckner is not the only one who questions the ethics of Gutierrez’s sideline work.
Bernalillo County Manager Thaddeus Lucero said he has met with Gutierrez to talk about the work and acknowledged that his moonlighting does not look good.
“I told him, ‘Dan … there is an appearance [of conflict]. … You have to determine whether this is worth it, because your primary job is a Bernalillo County employee,’” Lucero said he told Gutierrez.
For his part, Gutierrez, who earns $77,505 in his county post, said he had approval from his supervisors to do campaign work on the side. He filled out an outside-employment form prior to doing the work, which Lucero signed.
In hindsight, Lucero said Thursday, the county might have handled Gutierrez’s work request differently.
Others in both the private and public sectors also question the prudence of an economic development official working on political campaigns for supporters of a project he helped to oversee.
“If that person had a full time job with an economic development agency, and was also working part time or full time for a candidate, you know that might not be the most appropriate thing,” Fred Mondragon, Gov. Bill Richardson’s secretary for economic development, said earlier this year when asked about the appropriateness of such a situation.
Steven Robert Allen, executive director for Common Cause, agreed, saying that from his organization’s perspective, “those are exactly the types of conflicts of interest that we would discourage. I think it’s, quite frankly, a bad idea.”
SunCal pays lawmakers, lawmakers pay Gutierrez
Gutierrez said in an interview earlier this month that he has done nothing wrong, and that his activity hardly qualifies as a conflict of interest. He made about $1,000 in profit from the $40,691 his company was paid for the campaign work, he said. That profit came from a $5,000 bonus he received from Lopez, Gutierrez said. The rest of the money went to pay taxes, as well as printers, designers and other contractors who actually made the mailers, signs and logos.
He paid for the campaign items and then was reimbursed by the lawmakers, he added.
“They are paying me back because I take care of everything,” Gutierrez said of the campaigns.
He added that he doesn’t have a personal stake in SunCal. And he suggested in an interview that he didn’t know Lopez, Silva and Sanchez had supported SunCal’s development or that SunCal’s affiliate had donated to their campaigns.
“I have no idea who supports, who contributes to Dan or Linda or Bernadette,” Gutierrez said. “I have no idea how many thousands of votes they take in the Legislature. All I know is they are friends and they asked me to help them. And I’m not receiving monetary gain by helping them. This one is not even close because I am so particular about it in my position.”
SunCal’s development has generated opposition, and it played a prominent role in this year’s elections. Challengers taking on Lopez, Silva and other state lawmakers leading up to the primary election charged that the lawmakers were too close to big-money developers like SunCal.
As evidence, they pointed to a June 1 get-out-the-vote rally sponsored by Atrisco Oil & Gas and SunCal companies where three Democratic lawmakers from Albuquerque — Lopez, Silva and Sen. James Taylor — were featured as guest speakers.
Silva said at the time: “I sponsored the bill for SunCal this year. I will sponsor it again if they want me to. It helps people I represent. I am not going to deny helping my constituents.”
Silva’s bill during the 2008 legislative session would have allowed SunCal to issue bonds backed by the future tax revenue to help pay for the infrastructure.
SunCal and its affiliated subsidiary, Westland Development, have given money to many New Mexico elected officials, contributing to the campaigns of Lopez, Silva, Sanchez and other state lawmakers, campaign finance records show.
Gutierrez worked in his spare time to support the candidacies of Lopez, Silva and Sanchez just months after he helped in the county’s process to determine how much of the county’s public money should be given to SunCal.
SunCal asked Bernalillo County last year to commit 22 percent of the county’s sales taxes and 50 percent of the county’s property taxes in the area to cover infrastructure costs.
Gutierrez was among several county employees charged with analyzing the company’s application. Specifically, he was charged with analyzing whether SunCal could create as many jobs as it said it would.
Bernalillo County ultimately decided earlier this year that it could dedicate 10 percent of property tax and 30 percent of its gross receipts tax — or tens of millions of dollars over several decades in future tax revenue.
“We did SunCal no favors,” Gutierrez said.
‘People know I have these relationships’
According to campaign finance records, in addition to doing work for Lopez, Sanchez and Silva, Gutierrez’s company did work for County Commissioner Tim Cummins in his run for the state Public Regulation Commission, according to campaign finance records.
Gutierrez also was listed as having done more than $300 of in-kind consultant’s work for the campaign of Art De la Cruz, who challenged incumbent Bernalillo County Commissioner Teresa Cordova, one of Gutierrez’s bosses.
Lucero, the county manager, said he found the consultant’s fee troubling because Gutierrez may have worked against a sitting county commissioner.
“That was addressed with him,” Lucero said.
Gutierrez said in an interview he didn’t do any in-kind consulting for De La Cruz and doesn’t know how that fee wound up in De la Cruz’s campaign finance report.
He and De la Cruz are close friends, so close that De la Cruz is godfather to his child, he said. At one point Gutierrez said he asked De la Cruz about the fee, and De la Cruz told him he didn’t know about it.
“I don’t think he did it (put the fee in the report),” Gutierrez said. “I think his treasurer knew we were close and put it in there for some reason. I have no idea,” Gutierrez said.
Overall, Gutierrez said he intends Two Roads Media and Politics not to serve as a money-making venture, but as a way for him to stay involved in politics and as a resource for friends and people others he wants to help.
“I don’t market it. I don’t have a Web site. I don’t have a business card. People know I have these relationships,” he said. “I go way back. I’ve been involved in politics since I was 17 and my family way before that. So I know most of these people.”
“It’s not a profitable business. It’s more to help the people I believe in and friends.”
The Independent’s Trip Jennings and KUNM’s Jim Williams reported on this story together. You can hear KUNM’s piece here.