SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez proposed Tuesday removing elected officials — including the governor — from a council overseeing a multibillion-dollar state endowment amid concerns about political donations from investment firms hired by the state.
At a tumultuous meeting Tuesday at the state Capitol, Martinez threw her support behind changes to the composition of the New Mexico State Investment Council that would remove any appearance of impropriety when it comes to campaign or political donations from private firms that are paid to invest state money.
A report published by the International Business Times and nonprofit MapLight found that people at firms that handled state investments contributed to Republican political groups and to GOP Gov. Susana Martinez. The governor’s office has said the political contributions were publicly and properly disclosed, while Martinez derided the report Tuesday as “click bait” and not “true journalism.”
At the same time, Martinez endorsed reforms that would remove elected officials from the council after current terms end, under legislation that would outline some required professional qualifications.
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“It is disappointing to me that we find ourselves where we are,” Martinez said. “I absolutely would look and want to approve something that would put certain qualifications in statute and remove elected officials.”
Martinez previously vetoed a bill that would have removed her from the investment council because it would have kept two other elected officials in place — the state treasurer and land commissioner.
The 11-member investment council oversees state sovereign wealth funds worth over $20 billion derived from oil and natural gas production that supplement the state budget.
Tuesday’s meeting of the council was marked by disagreements over a revised code of conduct that four council members have refused to sign and describe as an effort to impose broad secrecy over council decisions.
Supporters of the new code say it is needed to keep private discussions in executive sessions about personnel, legal matters and sensitive financial information and that it was written in response to information shared in the past by council member Tim Jennings, a Senate appointee.
The council has censured Jennings and three other board members who refuse to sign the code from participating in future closed-door discussions in executive sessions and voting on matters discussed in executive session.
Council members Jennings, Leonard Lee Rawson, Aubrey Dunn and Tim Eichenberg said Tuesday they may seek a court order that prohibits the commission from excluding them. Dunn also serves as land commissioner, and Eichenberg is state treasurer.
The office of Attorney General Hector Balderas is drafting an opinion on whether council member can be compelled to sign the conduct code.
In the past, New Mexico was shaken by an alleged pay-to-play scheme involving state investments during the administration of former Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat.
No charges were ever filed, but the top federal prosecutor in New Mexico at the time had said a yearlong investigation revealed that pressure from the governor’s office had resulted in the corruption of the procurement process so that state bond deal work went to a Richardson political donor.