May 27, 2015

SIC strips power from litigation committee


On Tuesday the Santa Fe New Mexican reported that New Mexico’s State Investment Council voted to take away decision-making power from a controversial sub-committee.

iStock_000001334173_SmallAccording to the paper, the council’s move was in response to issues raised by an open government advocacy group and a group that represents print media.

The State Investment Council moved Tuesday to strip its three-member litigation committee of decision-making authority, a move that came in response to concerns raised in April by the Foundation for Open Government, a nonprofit that lobbies for transparency in public institutions, and the New Mexico Press Association, which represents the interests of print media outlets in the state.

The SIC, which is tasked with managing state investments, is made up of Gov. Susana Martinez, State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg, New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands Aubrey Dunn, Department of Finance and Administration Secretary Tom Clifford and seven other public members who were appointed by the Legislature and Martinez. The litigation committee is made up of Martinez and two of the appointed public members.

According to the New Mexican, the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government filed a brief accusing the committee of meeting privately regarding lawsuits against private investment companies.

In April, the foundation filed an amicus brief in one of the pay-to-play cases being considered by the New Mexico Court of Appeals. The brief said that on June 26, 2012, the council created the three-member litigation committee to make decisions in secret about how much the state should recover in lawsuits against investment firms that the state alleges broke their fiduciary duty to New Mexico in bad deals brokered in some cases by politically connected advisers.

“Clandestine meetings and secret committees are the hallmarks of an authoritarian society,” read the brief, “not a democracy.”

The State Investment Council had been accused of illegally making “secret” decisions on settlements in late 2013. These were related to settlements made in 2012 related to cases regarding pay-to-play allegations under former Gov. Bill Richardson.

The litigation committee was created in June of 2012 to streamline the settlement process.

The State Investment Council has approved tens of millions of dollars worth of settlements.

As a result of the pressure, the council changed its policy on what the three-member committee can do.

On Tuesday, the 11-member State Investment Council issued a revised policy in which it stripped the three-member committee of decision-making authority.

“The Council delegates none of its authority to the litigation committee,” states the new policy, “which will be a legal advisory committee only.”

According to the agenda from Tuesday’s meeting, the Investment Council is scheduled to meet again on June 23, in Santa Fe.