June 1, 2016

Bernco commissioner wants investigation into Santolina PAC donations

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Rio Rancho’s sprawling Loma Colorado master planned community by Pulte Homes is one of several referred by Santolina representatives as a recent success development story.Photo by Margaret Wright

A Bernalillo County commissioner wants the county attorney to investigate donations to a political action committee supporting two candidates for county commission.

Rio Rancho’s sprawling Loma Colorado master planned community by Pulte Homes is one of several referred by Santolina representatives as a recent success development story.   Photo by Margaret Wright

Rio Rancho’s sprawling Loma Colorado master planned community by Pulte Homes is one of several referred by Santolina representatives as a recent success development story. Photo by Margaret Wright

New Mexicans for New Mexico PAC recently drew controversy for its donors’ affiliations with the Santolina planned development, a project on Albuquerque’s westside whose developers are  asking the county to approve 80 subsidies for the next several decades.

The PAC sent mailers supporting District 2 candidates Steven Michael Quezada and Robert Chavez and has repeatedly targeted Adrián Pedroza, the candidate most outspokenly critical of Santolina.

The PAC also funded billboards for Quezada touting his “Breaking Bad” credits.

Commissioner Debbie O’Malley, a supporter of Pedroza, wants an investigation into whether certain donations to the PAC violate county campaign finance rules.

“The biggest thing is they’re doing business with the county in millions of dollars,” O’Malley, a Pedroza supporter, said in an interview. “They have a maximum of $1,000 to donate. If they want to do it that way, they can.”

Campaign finance limits cap donations from people doing business with Bernalillo County to candidates for county office at $1,000. The question is whether the same rule applies to political action committees independently supporting county candidates.

O’Malley specifically cites a $10,000 donation to New Mexicans for New Mexico from Brian Burnett, president of Bohannan Huston, which is doing engineering work for Santolina; a $5,000 donation from Jeffrey Garrett, president of Garrett Development Corporation, which manages Santolina’s assets; an $8,500 donation from Rodey Law, which legally represents Santolina and $1,500 donated collectively from four Rodey attorneys.

O’Malley argues that the donors are using the PAC as “a way of getting around” the $1,000 county campaign finance limits.

“I think that’s unethical,” O’Malley said.

Garrett previously donated $2,500 to Quezada, a sum that Quezada soon returned back to Garrett (Quezada told media outlets that the support was unwanted).

Donna Madrid-Taylor, the listed treasurer for New Mexicans for New Mexico, told NM Political Report Wednesday afternoon that she had not seen O’Malley’s complaint.

“I’ve been at work and I don’t have time for this,” Madrid-Taylor said in a short phone interview.

Tom Garrity, the owner of a high-profile public relations firm and a spokesman for the Santolina Development Team, gave a statement attacking O’Malley for “promoting her handpicked candidate who was recently transplanted into the district from the Northeast Heights.”

The PAC has attacked Pedroza for not growing up or always living in District 2, which includes Albuquerque’s South Valley and the Southwest Mesa. Pedroza, who works in the South Valley, has said he’s committed to raising his kids in the district.

“We are confident the PAC is operating pursuant to County ordinance,” Garrity’s statement reads. “It is unfortunate that Commissioner O’Malley is using her position as a Bernalillo County Commissioner to influence the District 2 election.”

O’Malley, however, argues that Santolina developers are trying to buy the election to get public subsidies from the county.

“It’s unusual for a situation where you have this much at stake,” she said.

Neri Holguin, Pedroza’s campaign manager, praised O’Malley’s request.

“An investigation is really called for because it’s been so blatantly obvious,” Holguin said in a statement. “Santolina developers knew exactly what they were doing when they formed their phony PAC to try to stop Adrián Pedroza’s bid for the county commission.”

Bernalillo County Attorney Ken Martinez tells NM Political Report that the county’s ethics commission will handle O’Malley’s complaint.

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