March 30, 2016

UNM Regent’s political ties questioned after HSC overhaul

A political action committee that supports GOP candidates is housed in the same law office as the president of the University of New Mexico Board of Regents who co-authored recent controversial changes to the university’s Health Science Center.

The incorporation document for New Mexicans for Honest Leadership lists the same downtown Albuquerque address and suite as Doughty, Alcaraz & deGraauw, according to the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office. The PAC is in good standing with the state.

Doughty, Alcaraz & deGraauw is the same law firm where Robert Doughty, who the state Senate confirmed as a regent last year, works as a partner.

Campaign finance reports don’t list Doughty’s name as associated with the PAC. They do, however, list Jeffrey M. Mitchell, an associate at Doughty’s law firm, as the PAC’s treasurer.

Steve Terrell of the Santa Fe New Mexican first noticed the connection in 2014. He noted that Mitchell had not donated money to any candidate up to that point.

The changes to HSC effectively eliminated two community members from the HSC board of directors and gutted the HSC chancellor’s authority, though to what extent is not yet known. HSC itself oversees the university’s two hospitals, the Cancer Center, the School of Medicine and the nursing school.

The law firm’s association with the PAC never came up during Doughty’s confirmation hearing.

State Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, sits on the Senate Rules Committee, which reviews many of the governor’s appointees, including for the Board of Regents of state universities.

The committee recommended the full Senate confirm Doughty’s appointment as a regent, along with Sanchez voting yes. Sanchez now says he never would have voted for Doughty if he knew about the PAC being run out of Doughty’s law firm office.

“I can’t tell you how disappointed I am about all of this,” Sanchez, who was among many to publicly criticize the HSC governance changes, told NM Political Report.

During the 2014 election cycle, New Mexicans for Honest Leadership sent out mailers praising Secretary of State Dianna Duran and criticizing her Democratic opponent. Doughty’s law firm has provided legal counsel to the Secretary of State’s Office since 2012 in contracts that add up to $315,000 in taxpayer money, according to the state’s Sunshine Portal.

Rob Doughty

Doughty, Alcaraz & deGraauw

Robert Doughty

Doughty personally provided legal counsel to Duran’s office during the 2014 election season when she fought two non-binding ballot initiatives in Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties* that asked whether voters would support marijuana decriminalization.

The courts ultimately ruled that the non-binding initiatives could go forward.

Sanchez called the situation problematic, emphasizing that the PAC’s treasurer is an associate with Doughty’s firm.

“If that PAC was used for Dianna Duran and [Doughty] had a contract with that office, it should throw up some red flags somewhere,” Sanchez said.

Campaign finance reports show that during the 2014 election, New Mexicans for Honest Leadership received all of its funding, amounting to $175,000, from the super PAC Advance New Mexico Now, which supports Republican candidates.

This is notable because Matt Chandler, a former prosecutor and now a district judge, served as treasurer for Advance New Mexico Now during that same election season.

Governor Susana Martinez appointed Chandler to the UNM regents during the same time she appointed Doughty. But largely thanks to a political mailer from the PAC accusing Democratic state Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard of making a vote she didn’t make, prompted the Senate to reject Chandler’s regent confirmation in a rare, heated battle.

In contrast, Doughty’s law firm’s connection to the New Mexicans for Honest Leadership never came up during his state Senate confirmation in 2015, which happened the same day as Chandler’s rejection.

This may be because no one knew about it.

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, and vice chair of the Senate Rules Committee, told NM Political Report this week that this was the first time he heard of the PAC being run out of Doughty’s office.

“We do ask whether [appointees] have run for office,” Ivey-Soto said of Rules Committee procedures. “We don’t ask them, ‘Have you ever been involved in a political action committee?’ Maybe that’s a question we should ask.”

Being associated with politics isn’t a non-starter, however.

The Rules committee also approved the appointment of Jamie Koch in 2015. Koch is a former Democratic Party of New Mexico chairman and also served on the State Game Commission and in the State House of Representatives.

Koch resigned from the UNM Board of Regents in protest over the rejection of Chandler, but later accepted another appointment from Martinez to the same position.

He then retired in December of 2015.

Doughty and his law firm have had deep ties with state government since Martinez’s inauguration.

Since 2011, the year Martinez became governor, his law firm has contracted with the state General Services Department for more than $1.3 million, mostly in the department’s Risk Management Division, according to the state’s Sunshine Portal.

The current contract calls for the law firm to do work on provisions of the New Mexico Tort Claims Act, the Civil Rights Act and the New Mexico Human Rights Act. The contract also calls for up to $300,000 in work for the state each year from Fiscal Year 2015 to Fiscal Year 2018, subject to appropriations from the state Legislature. Doughty’s signature is the only one from his law firm on the contract.

Apart from this, his personal role in the contracts is unclear.

Neither Doughty or a spokesman for General Services Department returned inquiries from NM Political Report before press time.

Doughty also donated $1,500 to Martinez’s 2012 reelection campaign.

Before voting for Doughty’s confirmation to the UNM Board of Regents, Sanchez spoke with him individually. Sanchez said he asked Doughty whether he would act independently and not take orders from the governor’s office or anyone associated with it on how the university should be run.

“He looked me right in the eye and said, ‘Yes,’” Sanchez said. “From what I’ve seen, I don’t think he was very truthful with me.”

Critics like Mel Eaves, whose position as a community member of the HSC board of directors was eliminated as a result of Doughty’s proposal, have blamed the governor’s office for the changes. After the vote by the Board of Regents, Doughty denied that the governor’s office influenced the changes.

NM Political Report first reported last week that the state Human Services Department, which operates under the Martinez administration, asked HSC for $50 million to cover the state’s Medicaid shortfall in February. HSC leadership told state officials that several governing bodies, including the HSC board of directors, had to approve the money transfer before it could happen.

The state dropped the request, but Doughty and Regent Marron Lee quickly began preparing the controversial HSC governance changes shortly thereafter.

Lee’s husband is Michael Nelson, a deputy secretary at the state Human Services Department.

Sanchez, who voted against Lee’s confirmation earlier this year, said he will never vote to reconfirm Doughty to the Board of Regents if the opportunity arises in the future.

But such an opportunity, if it ever arises, won’t come until 2020, when Doughty’s current term as a regent expires.

And it would be under a different governor; New Mexico will go to the polls in 2018 and Gov. Susana Martinez is term-limited.

*ProgressNow New Mexico pushed for the non-binding question to appear on the ballots. ProgressNow New Mexico helps find funding for NM Political Report but has no editorial control over this or any other story.