Developer under fire over N.M. ads

By Steve Terrell: The New Mexican

A California development company that has been advertising in New Mexico in recent weeks might be in violation of state lobbyist laws, according to a complaint filed Thursday with the Secretary of State’s Office.

SunCal, which is planning a project on Albuquerque’s West Mesa, has advertised on television and highway billboards. The company is pushing two bills in the Legislature — Senate Bill 249 and House Bill 470 — to help finance the initial stage of what eventually would be a 55,000-acre residential, commercial and industrial project. The first phase of the development is being financed by tax increment development districts, also known as TIDD.

Lobbyists are required to report expenses to the secretary of state within 48 hours of the expenditure during a legislative session. Most of the reports list money spent on receptions, meals and gifts.

The state Lobbyist Regulation Act also requires reporting “other” expenses. Though not specified in the law, these “other” expenses routinely reported by lobbyists include advertising, mailers to constituents concerning legislation and polls conducted concerning legislation.

“To my knowledge none of this media has been reported to the Secretary of State as required within 48 hours of the expenditure,” wrote Lora Lucero of Albuquerque in her complaint. “I’d like to know what types of media SunCal has purchased, when it was purchased, and how much has been spent trying to influence Legislators and the public to support TIDD bonds for SunCal Development Corporation.”

Lucero said she filed the complaint as a private citizen, not representing any group.

A check of the 48-hour reports at the Secretary of State’s Office on Thursday did not turn up any media expenditures by SunCal. Efforts to contact lobbyists for the company were unsuccessful Thursday.

The only SunCal-related expense report found was one reporting an expense of $196 for a “Freshman representative dinner” on Feb. 9 submitted by Vanessa Alarid for Westland Development Corp., a SunCal subsidiary. Alarid also is listed as a lobbyist for SunCal.

Among the expenditures Lucero listed were:

• Television spots on Super Bowl Sunday on a cable channel.

• A billboard on Interstate 25 “featuring the same message that was mailed to many Legislators from SunCal touting ‘12,900 jobs.’”

Though not listed in the complaint, SunCal also has done some Internet advertising. In recent days, a SunCal ad has been at the top of the New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan blog. The ad says “TIDDs Bring Economic Growth to New Mexico. Tell Your Legislator.” The ad links to a SunCal Web site called “TIDD Facts.”

SB249 would allow a special tax agreement with the state, giving SunCal the ability to sell bonds worth up to $408 million to finance the building of roads, utilities and other infrastructure for about 4,000 acres of the West Mesa project. That bill has received a positive recommendation from the Senate Corporations Committee and is now in the Senate Finance Committee.

The identical HB473 is awaiting hearing in the House Business and Industry Committee.

SunCal itself has contributed only about $6,000 to state political candidates in New Mexico in the past two election cycles. However, its subsidiary Westland and its employees have contributed more than $100,000 to state politicians in the past four years, according to the National Institute of Money in State Politics. Of that, $20,000 went to Gov. Bill Richardson’s gubernatorial campaign. Richardson also received more than $8,000 from Westland and SunCal for his presidential contest.

Contact Steve Terrell at 986-3037 or sterrell@sfnewmexican.com.