I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Ignore that letter
RIO RANCHO — More than two months after the Attorney General’s office sent a letter asking Secretary of State Mary Herrera to change the legal status of an Albuquerque nonprofit at the center of an ongoing controversy, that advice remains ignored.
In fact, it has been ignored at the urging of the Attorney General’s office itself, officials say.
Deputy secretary of state Don Francisco Trujillo said Thursday that the author — Attorney General Gary King’s Chief Deputy Albert J. Lama — phoned shortly after sending the letter out to ask "me to disregard it or set it aside. I don’t remember the exact terminology. The message was, we’ve decided that is not our final say."
The May 22 letter requested a change from nonprofit to political action committee for New Mexico Youth Organized, a group that is at the center of an election year controversy and has engendered the ire of sitting state lawmakers for mailers it sent out in the months before the June 3 primary. The nonprofit also was named last week as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by three state lawmakers who lost their re-election bids on June 3.
Had that change occurred, the group would have been required to publicly disclose its contributors. As a nonprofit, the organization is not required to list its donors, officials say.
The letter has been a primary weapon in the arsenal of the group’s critics. Some lawmakers have pointed to the letter as evidence that New Mexico Youth Organized skirted campaign finance rules. Various media outlets, including the Albuquerque Journal, meanwhile, have featured the letter prominently.
That the letter was shelved so quickly after it was sent out caught some by surprise Thursday.
"The letter has been the source of speculation of and criticism about our organization in the media over the past three months," said Matt Brix, policy director of The Center for Civic Policy, which oversees New Mexico Youth Organized. "We are shocked to find out today that just days after it was released it was disavowed by its author."
Phil Sisneros, spokesman for Attorney General Gary King, confirmed Thursday that his agency and the Secretary of State’s remain in talks about what to do about New Mexico Youth Organized. All options remain open, he said.
"We are making sure that all our information is correct," Sisneros said of the facts in the May 22 letter.
When asked how much research Lama had done prior to the letter’s release, Sisneros said, "You can ask him that yourself."
Sisneros, however, said that Lama could not be reached Thursday because he was on a plane.
Lama sent out the letter to Herrera after state Sen. Shannon Robinson, D-Albuquerque, phoned to complain that his attempts to have the Secretary of State change the organization’s status were not met with success.
Lama writes Herrera that Robinson alleges that New Mexico Youth Organized was "making campaign expenditures on behalf of candidates in several legislative races."
Those allegations are similar to ones found in last week’s lawsuit, which Robinson filed along with state Rep. Dan Silva and state Sen. James Taylor, all of whom lost in the June 3 primary. In the lawsuit the three lawmakers charge that several nonprofits and the three challengers who defeated the Albuquerque Democrats in the June primary conspired to illegally hide the spending of at least $180,000 on a secret campaign against them.
Lama ends his letter by asking Herrera to change New Mexico Youth Organized’s legal status so that it will "comply with the reporting and the other requirement s of both the Campaign Practices Act and Lobbyist Regulation Act."
Editor’s note: The Center for Civic Policy helped to locate funding sources for the New Mexico Independent.