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Public Records Request Shows Gov’s “Small Business-Friendly Task Force” Met In Secret; Is Packed With Lobbyists for Oil and Gas, Mining and Dairy

Gov. Susana Martinez

By Tracy Dingmann

When Susana Martinez assumed the office of Governor on Jan. 1, she faced a clear choice. Would she protect New Mexico’s clean land, water and air by fighting to keep environmental regulations strong – or would she instead focus her energies on stalling, relaxing and eliminating regulations for certain wealthy, mostly out-of-state industries who contributed generously to her campaign?

New Mexico’s new Governor chose the latter course. Minutes after she took office, Gov. Martinez issued an executive order that halted all pending or proposed rules and regulations for 90 days and created a “Small Business-Friendly Task Force” to evaluate the rules for their “workability and reasonableness and (to) determine whether they are proper and necessary.” During the next 90 days, she said, the task force would decide which rules hampered small businesses in New Mexico.

Details were scarce about how Gov. Martinez defined “small business,” but in her State of the State speech, she spoke of wanting to help “mom and pop shops:”

“The big corporations have teams of lawyers and accountants to help them. It’s the small businesses – the mom and pop shops – the small start ups that get lost in the layers of red tape. We will help them, and in doing so, send a loud and clear message that New Mexico is open for business.”

At the 45-day mark with no word from the Governor, we started to wonder – How was that “Small Business-Friendly Task Force” coming along? Who’s on it, and when has it met? What has it discussed and what kind of changes is it looking to recommend?

We asked the Governor’s office nicely, but got nowhere, so we were forced to file an Inspection of Public Records request to get the answers. (More about that later).

This Is Small Business?

The list of members provided by the Department of Economic Development shows that the Governor’s “Small Business-Friendly Task Force” is dominated by long-time lobbyists for large corporations, including big dairy, which contributed thousands of dollars to Martinez’s campaign; and the oil, gas and natural gas industry from in and outside the state, which gave her hundreds of thousands. Both industries have huge economic stakes in keeping New Mexico regulations at bay.

The companies represented by lobbyists on the “small business” task force include oil and gas producers and distributors from Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona and Colorado; copper, gold and uranium mining companies from Arizona; a payday loan company based in Georgia and a giant tobacco company from North Carolina.

The seven lobbyists on the task force are:

TJ Trujillo

At the Roundhouse, Trujillo represents Biotechnology Industry Organization, BP America, Inc., Community Loans of America, Inc., County of Grant, Dairy Producers of New Mexico, Dell, Inc., El Paso Corporation, Freeport-McMoran Copper and Gold, Gallagher and Kennedy, PA, Hewlett-Packard Company, Hunt Transmission Services, New Mexico Off Highway Vehicle Alliance, Occidental Petroleum Corp., DBA Occidental Permian LTD, OXY USA Inc., RAI Services Company (Formerly Reynolds American Inc.), Ruidoso Downs Racing, Inc., Ruidoso Jockey Club and State Farm Insurance Companies.

Here’s some help deciphering his client list:

  • Biotechnology Industry Organization is a Washington, D.C – based company that refers to itself as the world’s largest biotechnology organization.
  • BP America is a Houston-based oil and gas company (yes, that BP).
  • Community Loans of America is an Atlanta-based payday loan company.
  • Dairy Producers of New Mexico represents farms in New Mexico – a state which has some of the largest and most dense factory farms in the nation. Trujillo and the dairy group came under fire earlier this year when emails showed Trujillo, an attorney, and Walter Bradley, a former Lt. Gov and fellow lobbyist for the dairy association, were involved in helping write the executive order halting the regulations and creating the task force to review them.
  • The El Paso Corporation owns North America’s largest natural gas pipeline system and is one of North America’s largest independent natural gas producers. It is based in Colorado.
  • Freeport McMoran is an Arizona-based mining company that is the world’s largest producer of copper, gold and molybdenum and the leading manufacturer of copper strip, cadmium copper, copper wire and bars.
  • Hunt Transmission Services is a Dallas-based company that develops and acquires electric and pipeline transmission and distribution assets.
  • Occidental Petroleum is a Houston-based oil and gas company.
  • RAI Services Company (formerly Reynolds American) is a North Carolina-based tobacco company.

Karin Foster

At the Roundhouse, Foster represents Chesapeake Energy Corporation, Energen, Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico, KFoster Associates, Shell Oil Company and Shell Wind Energy.

  • Chesapeake Energy is an Oklahoma-based producer of oil and natural gas – the country’s second largest.
  • Energen is a Farmington-based oil and gas company.
  • Shell Oil Company is a Houston-based oil company.

Minda McGonagle

At the Roundhouse, McGonagle represents: Ajinomoto Food Ingredients, American Council of Life Insurers, National Federation of Independent Business, Neutron Energy, Inc., New Mexico Chapter/American Subcontractors Association, Veterans and Fraternal Non-Profit Clubs of New Mexico, Inc.

  • Ajinomoto Food Ingredients is a company based in Chicago.
  • The American Council of Life Insurers is a lobbying group based in Washington D.C.
  • The National Federation of Independent Businesses is based in Nashville.
  • Neutron Energy is a privately held uranium exploration and development company based in Arizona.

Carla Sonntag

Sonntag represents the National Utility Contractors Association of New Mexico, New Mexico Business Coalition and the New Mexico Utility Shareholders Alliance.

Caren Cowen

Cowen represents the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association and the New Mexico Wool Growers.

Gary Tonjes

Tonjes represents Albuquerque Economic Development.

Roxanne Rivera-Wiest

Rivera-Wiest represents Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc., New Mexico Chapter.

Not Exactly `Mom and Pop

The non-lobbyist members of the task force are as follows (no offense to these folks, but I don’t see any “mom and pop shops” here, either):

Frank Yates: Past president of Yates Petroleum
Anna Muller: Albuquerque landlord and business owner
Perry Bendicksen: Albuquerque venture capitalist
Sarah Chavez: Director of sales and marketing at El Pinto Foods in Albuquerque
Dale Dekker: Albuquerque architect
Brent Eastwood: George Mason University professor, specializing in domestic policy and international security, and frequent contributor to American Enterprise Institute publications. Albuquerque
Joe DiGregorio: Gallup businessman
Kevin Yearout: Albuquerque mechanical contractor
Linda Kay Jones: Special assistant director of institutional advancement at Western New Mexico University
Robert Castillo: Information unavailable
Tom Hutchinson: Las Cruces restaurant owner
Mike Unthank: Independent management consultant, of Albuquerque
Carol Wight: CEO of the New Mexico Restaurant Association

The rest of the task force is rounded out by Gov. Martinez’s designated cabinet heads, including:

Jon Barela: Economic Development (task force chair)

Demesia Padilla: Tax and Revenue

Dee Dennis: Regulation and Licensing

Ed Burckle: General Services Department

Celina Bussey: Department of Workforce Solutions

Raj Solomon: General counsel at NMED

So Who’s At the Table?

The list of names makes a clear statement about who Gov. Martinez believes should be given a seat at the table of power and influence.

But do these selections match up with her rhetoric?

Here’s a quote from Gov. Martinez, from an interview with KKOB-770 yesterday regarding her philosophy of governing:

“We need to make sure the people are being represented…not the special interest groups that are showing up every day. We need to bring the people into the process.”

Here’s another quote from the Governor, also from yesterday:

“My biggest promise was that I was going to bring the people to the process, and there was going to be more transparency with what was goes on in the Roundhouse. And that includes the committee hearings.”

But apparently not task forces – looks like “the people” were left out of  finding what happened in those – unless they filed an IPRA request.

What Happened At Those Secret Meetings

Thanks to our open records request, we learned that the task force was named and began meeting secretly in February.

Notes taken by an Economic Development Department staffer show the group made no consideration of keeping any of the pending rules or regulations. The notes show that agenda items revolved around which industry wanted what rules rolled back – and how the Martinez administration could accomplish it.

Task force members weighed and discussed all possible tactics the Governor could use to block incoming regulations – repealing a rule, making an executive order, attempting to pass legislation.

Among the documents we received in our public information request was a mid-point report from Feb. 17 that is full of recommendations the task force apparently didn’t want to share with anyone. (We’ll post that entire report later today.) And we still have a request pending for more documents to come from the Economic Development Department, which facilitated the meetings.

Why Secret?

But why were these meetings closed? Similar task forces in the past created by the Governor and chaired by the Economic Development Secretary were held in the open, with meetings announced in advance and conducted around the state in public places with plenty of input from regular New Mexicans.

Sarah Welsh, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, says the the state Open Meetings Act probably does not apply to task forces created by the Governor.  But as one of the state’s leading advocate for transparency in government, Welsh noted that the Open Meetings Act sets a minimum standard for which meetings must be noticed and open to the public.

Welsh said today:

“The Open Meetings Act sets out a broad public policy of openness, stating `it is declared to be public policy of this state that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who represent them.’ As our state Supreme Court has put it, openness is the rule and secrecy is the exception.”

Makes you wonder what this task force is trying to hide.

You’ll find out exactly what in our next post, when we share the recommendations from the task force’s midpoint report.



4 thoughts on “Public Records Request Shows Gov’s “Small Business-Friendly Task Force” Met In Secret; Is Packed With Lobbyists for Oil and Gas, Mining and Dairy

  1. This is an excellent job of reporting Tracy. Myself and many thousand New Mexico citizens are truly grateful. How many laws will be ignored or broken by the actions of this entire camp of charlatans, and can our already damaged resources stand continued assault as has been the practice for years and years. Wouldn’t it seem that these back door dealings by an elected public servant, working with industrial powers to subvert and hide their actions, would be illegal? We already have a proven example of one industry supplying the administration with documentation to stall or otherwise delay or defeat a legally passed regulation (read “law”).

    Now again, “closed door” meetings are attempting to hide facts and actions from the public in defiance of the states open meetings act. In this overall experience, does the name “Richard Nixon” come to mind? Will Santa Fe reach new limits of deceit? Could this be the “Wastegate”?

    Keep watching, the beat goes on…

  2. this is terrific reporting!! thank you so much for this information. As someone who works with the NMED daily, I am very curious about what is next for this very important Department. it seems as though Martinez thinks that protecting the environment=anti-business.

    FYI – Raj Solomon is not the NMED general counsel. he is the deputy secretary. Be sure to put PE after his name. he is apparently very sensitive about that….

  3. Pingback: NM not small-business friendly « Silent Loudmouth's Blog

  4. It’s too bad Harrison “Environmentalists are Communists” Schmidt isn’t on board. He’ s funny. So, 3.5 more years of executive malfeasance. By that time the state will be so brown even the dust storms will look green. Thank you Governor Martinez, for considering “the people”. The lies are so blatant and the intent so damaging I have to comfort myself with thoughts of a recall. Do we even have that in NM?