The FBI has interviewed several Republicans in the state over fundraising activities related to Gov. Susana Martinez’ top political advisor, the state’s second largest daily newspaper reported Friday night.
The Santa Fe New Mexican cited an unnamed “prominent New Mexico Republican” that had been interviewed and said others had been interviewed about activities from Martinez’s political wing. The report came hours after a reporter for CNBC tweeted about the news.
The newspaper notes that the money went to Jay McCleskey, who was Martinez’s campaign manager and has run a number of campaigns for Republicans in the state. In addition to campaign funds, the unnamed source said the FBI asked about money to Martinez’s 2011 inauguration committee.
Daniel Libit of CNBC first reported the news, sending three tweets late on Friday about the situation and said the investigation was “into… advisor Jay McCleskey.” NM Political Report reached out to several Republicans but was unable to confirm the news as of Friday night.
— Daniel Libit (@DanielLibit) November 6, 2015
Sources: Fed investigation into @Gov_Martinez aide McCleskey focussed on campaign spending, inauguration spending, state contracts.
— Daniel Libit (@DanielLibit) November 6, 2015
It is not known exactly who or how many people the FBI is investigating. McCleskey did not return an inquiry from NM Political Report left Friday evening following Libit’s tweets. The New Mexican said the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Mexico both declined to comment. It is standard practice for the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office to neither confirm nor deny investigations. Libit noted that Danny Diaz, who was involved in both of Martinez’s political campaigns and is now the campaign manager for Jeb Bush, was part of Martinez’s team. Libit noted that the investigation could impact Bush’s already ailing political campaign.
Libit is the reporter who, as he noted in his initial tweet, wrote an unflattering story about McCleskey for the National Journal in 2013. The story noted the influence that McCleskey has had on Martinez and her administration; he noted that McCleskey has been called the “Karl Rove of New Mexico.”
Rove was, of course, the political adviser and campaign manager for George W. Bush.
This isn’t the first time someone connected to Martinez has been interviewed by federal law enforcement.
McCleskey Media Strategies, the company run by McCleskey, received over $125,000 between April and October of this year from Susana PAC, Martinez’s political action committee. Public Opinion Strategies, where his wife Nicole McCleskey is a partner, also received $20,000 for polling from the PAC.
The Santa Fe Reporter reported in 2013 that former Martinez finance director Andrea Goff was interviewed by the FBI over a contract at the Downs at Albuquerque. McCleskey’s name came up in that investigation.
From the Reporter:
SFR, citing anonymous sources, reported on May 29 that the FBI interviewed former campaign staffers for Republican Gov. Martinez about the bidding process of the lease, the relationships between Downs and gubernatorial officials, along with consulting payments made to Gov. Martinez’ political advisor, Jay McCleskey. The FBI has not confirmed with SFR that it’s launched an official criminal investigation into the Downs lease. Its policy is to neither confirm nor deny investigations.
It’s unclear whether the current investigation is related to the Downs lease. Last month, Albuquerque District Attorney Kari Brandenburg asked the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office to investigate new allegations regarding the racino lease.
McCleskey’s history with New Mexico GOP
McCleskey came to New Mexico politics in the late 1990s working for legislators like state Sen. Bill Payne, R-Albuquerque and John Sanchez, now Lieutenant Governor.
In 2002, McCleskey ran Sanchez’s failed Republican gubernatorial campaign against Democrat Bill Richardson. But by 2004, McCleskey found victory in helping George W. Bush win New Mexico as head of the Republican National Committee’s New Mexico victory campaign.
By the end of the decade, he had managed the campaign of Richard Berry, who was elected as Albuquerque’s first Republican mayor in two decades.
But McCleskey’s biggest success by far has come with Martinez, the nation’s first Latina governor who’s received buzz as a potential Republican vice presidential selection in the 2012 election and now.
Martinez is set to take over as chair of the Republican Governor’s Association later this month. McCleskey received $10,000 a month for consulting for the RGA in 2014 for “Arizona/Nevada” according to NJ.com. At the time, the RGA was run by New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a close political ally of Martinez.