Report looking at possible ‘pay-to-play’ on investments stirs up a hornet’s nest

A report examining possible “pay-to-play” over state pension investments is drawing sharp reactions and a call for an investigation into whether donations by investment firms broke state laws. The International Business Times and the money-in-politics watchdog nonprofit Maplight released an investigative report earlier this week on donations given directly to Susana Martinez’s campaign and to organizations that backed Martinez and later received state investment money from a public pension fund. A spokesman for Martinez essentially called the report clickbait and said “these accusations are shameless and dishonest” in a statement to NM Political Report. The spokesman, Joseph Cueto, continued, “It’s a shame that the dark-money liberal political group behind this is getting their way with clicks and smear headlines without a shred of evidence. The Governor remains open to further strengthening of our disclosure laws – despite Democrats’ previously killing her proposals to do just that.”

IBT is a for-profit online news organization based in New York City.

NM’s AG, others sue Trump administration over ending DACA

New Mexico’s top law enforcement officer joined 15 other attorneys general in suing the federal government to stop the Trump administration from deporting people whose parents  brought them to the country illegally as children. New Mexico Attorney General was among those who opposed President Donald Trump’s plans to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, created by a Barack Obama executive order, in six months. Those who remain in the country under the status can stay until their waives expire and the renewals typically last two years. After six months, the administration would no longer accept new renewals and those whose status expired would be subject to removal from the country. The lawsuit says the Trump decision, announced by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this week, discriminates against DACA recipients and harms states and  their economies.

Court says feds broke the law when delaying new royalty rule

A federal judge said Wednesday that the United States government broke the law when it delayed a rule updating how royalties are calculated when companies drill and mine offshore and on federal and tribal lands. Those royalties are paid out to states, tribes and the United States government. After five years of analysis, meetings with stakeholders and public comment, in 2016 the Office of Natural Resource Revenue (ONRR) issued a rule updating valuation rules, which had been set in the 1980s. ONRR estimated the changes would increase royalty collections by $71.9 to $84.9 million annually. The rule took effect on January 1, 2017 and initial reports were due in February.

AG sues Presbyterian over millions in alleged unpaid taxes

New Mexico’s Attorney General says one of the state’s largest healthcare providers committed fraud by deliberately underpaying taxes for over a decade by falsifying Medicaid deductions and credits. Attorney General Hector Balderas filed the claim in state court in Santa Fe Tuesday, alleging that Presbyterian Health Plan, Inc. and Presbyterian Healthcare Services filed claims for tax deductions and credits related to Medicaid for above what the company qualified for between 2001 and 2015.The suit refers to Presbyterian’s actions as “systemic and deliberate.”

“When insurance providers break the rules, they must face consequences,” Balderas said in a statement released by his office. “My office is working with the State Auditor to make sure that Presbyterian—and any other companies that engaged in similar fraudulent conduct—are held responsible for the serious injuries imposed on New Mexican taxpayers.”

Meanwhile, a separate audit of premium tax collections continues, State Auditor Tim Keller said in a statement. In a statement to NM Political Report, a spokeswoman said Presbyterian is “confident that we have acted in good faith and with the intent to comply with our legal obligations and responsibilities” and said the company “vehemently reject[s] the allegations made today and we look forward to a positive resolution to this matter.”

“We are genuinely alarmed and surprised by the timing and nature of these allegations,” the emailed statement from Communications Manager Melanie Mozes said. “The premium taxes paid by Presbyterian Health Plan have been audited multiple times by independent firms and state agencies.

Feds to look into behavioral health services in NM

The federal government will take a look into New Mexico’s behavioral health services, according to the four Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation. In a letter last month to Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ben Ray Luján, the federal Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General Daniel Levinson confirmed the upcoming review. “OIG will review the extent to which behavioral health providers are included in the States’ managed care plans and the types of care offered by these providers,” Levinson wrote in the June 28 letter.

AGs sue U.S. Education Department over delay of debt rule

New Mexico’s Attorney General signed onto a lawsuit against the head of the U.S. Department of Education over rescinding protections for students who borrow money for college. AG Hector Balderas is one of 19 attorneys general from around the country that sued Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over her actions on the Borrower Defense Rule, an Obama-era rule aimed at protecting students who borrowed money from debt at colleges guilty of misconduct. The attorneys general are asking a court to order the Education Department to enforce the rule. The rule came, in large part, because of the collapse of Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit college whose students had an extremely high default rate on student loans. Heald College, one of the Corinthians College schools, was eventually fined nearly $30 million by the federal Department of Education for misleading statements about employment rates of graduates.

Supreme Court denies NM’s Gold King Mine petition against Colorado

The U.S. Supreme Court denied New Mexico’s petition to hold Colorado responsible for the 2015 Gold King Mine spill Monday, on the court’s last day in session this term. While conducting exploratory cleanup work of an abandoned mine in southwestern Colorado, federal contractors caused 3 million gallons of wastewater to spill from the Gold King Mine. The mine, like hundreds of others in the area, was owned by a private company before being abandoned. The Supreme Court decision to not hear the case was the latest blow to New Mexico’s attempts to hold someone responsible for the spill into the Animas River, which flows into the San Juan River. Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), whose contractors caused the breach, said that under the Federal Tort Claims Act it was not legally able to pay the claims of economic damages caused by the 2015 spill.

Embezzlement, perjury part of 22 new charges against ex-state senator

This week, a grand jury charged former state Sen. Phil Griego with 22 new criminal counts centering mostly on embezzlement and perjury for allegedly using campaign money for personal use and lying about it. In total, Griego faces 19 new felonies and three misdemeanors. This adds to the nine previous corruption counts Griego was charged with last summer by a district court judge in Santa Fe. Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office is prosecuting Griego. The new charges include 13 perjury counts, each of which are fourth-degree felonies, for lying on several of his campaign finance reports between 2012 and 2015.

‘Enforcement gap’ persists in NM ethics laws

Corruption has long been endemic to New Mexico government. And today, even when people ferret out potential problems or ethical lapses, there’s still a significant gap between the laws meant to protect people and the ability or willingness of state agencies to enforce them. In January, for example, conservation groups wrote to the state purchasing agent and director, asking him to look into a political donation from a company with a lucrative state contract. The company had contributed $1,000 to Gov. Susana Martinez’s political action committee during a time when the state’s Procurement Code prohibits political contributions, when proposals are being evaluated for the awarding of contracts. Months passed, and the activists didn’t hear back from the state purchasing agent or from the agency that had issued the contract, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC).

Amid investigations, UNM AD resigns

The head of the University of New Mexico Athletics is leaving as the program finds itself the subject of a special audit and under increased scrutiny thanks to fundraising and spending habits. UNM Vice President for Athletics Paul Krebs announced Friday he will step down effective June 30 of this year. Krebs first began his job as athletics director in 2006. As in many states, UNM coaches of high-profile programs—football and men’s basketball—are the highest-paid state employees. Interim UNM President Chaouki Abdallah praised Krebs and noted that he had been trying to leave for some time.