copyright 2004 by George Johnson
Johnson Space Center, Houston, photo by George Johnson
Part 1. Rebecca's House and Ludwig's Castle
Part 2. The Chamber of Commerce's (Not So) Secret Candidate
Part 3. David Pfeffer's Letter and Mayor Delgado's Award
Part 4. Tom Mills and the Elusive Qualities of Life
Part 5. The Great Masquerade: Memories of the 2002 Campaign
Part 6. Why Nature Abhors a Vacuum: Political Coverage, Santa Fe Style
(Brief Interlude: What the Water Budget Really Means)
Part 7. Into the Heart (and the Soul) of Santa Fe
Part 8. Mr. Miller's Smoking Gun
Part 9. The Journal Follows the Money (and a Visit from the Berardinelli Robot)
Part 10. The Demagoguery of Matthew Ortiz
Part 11. The Thornburg Companies and United Way
Part 12. The Archeological Impact of Rick Berardinelli
Part 13. A Visit to Rio Rancho Viejo
Part 14. A Gunnslinger Launches an Election Eve Attack
Part 15. The Undertaker's Smile (The Return to Ludwig's Castle)
Part 16. In the Matter of Shelly Gunn
Part 17. The Rooming House at 346 Calle Loma Norte
Part 7. Into the Heart (and the Soul) of Santa Fe
Part 18. The Final Episode
March 14, 2004, 10:19 p.m.
Part 17. The Rooming House at 346 Calle Loma Norte
The financial statements filed by City Council candidates rarely receive the official scrutiny they deserve, or so it would seem, even the most cursory glance. How else to explain how a document like the one submitted last month by Carmichael Dominguez would fail to arouse the interest of the City Clerk?
During his campaign, Mr. Dominguez strained to give the impression that his rather substantial contributions came, one small check at a time, from hundreds of individual Santa Feans, eager for a change in government. Curiously, at least ten of these citizens, each donating $100, appear to live in the very same house: 346 Calle Loma Norte (consistently misspelled "Calle Lomz Norte" in his report).
Map in hand, I went in search of this address on Sunday afternoon. Calle Loma Norte, it turns out, is near the very end of Old Taos Highway, and 346 is sequestered among a dense warren of relatively new tan stucco houses shielded from U.S. 84/285 by the concrete soundwall constructed during the last year. This is, of course, about as far from Mr. Dominguez's district as one could be and still reside in the city limits.
When I got home I consulted a reverse address directory, which listed the only resident of 346 Calle Loma Norte as someone named JoAnna England. The name was unfamiliar, but I figured that maybe the New Mexican would know. A search in the newspaper's archives turned up this:
MILESTONES The Santa Fe New Mexican. Santa Fe, N.M.: Aug 18, 2002. pg. E.4 Connie and Tom Young of Santa Fe announce the engagement of their son Kurt Young to JoAnna England of Chico, Calif. A June 2003 wedding is planned in Santa Fe. The bride-elect is the daughter of Robbie Klein of Chico, Calif., and is a medical student at The University of New Mexico. The groom-elect is a 1998 graduate of St. Michael's High School and a graduate of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif. He is a real-estate investor.
Readers will recognize Kurt Young as the campaign manager for Eric Lujan, who ran unsuccessfully against Patti Bushee, and the half brother of Shelly Gunn. Other contributors from the Calle Loma Norte address include Tom Young Sr., Brenda Young, Ana Young, Tom Young Jr., and a Shelly Glenn. Another misspelling? There is also a Connie Lorenz and a couple of people named Gwinn.
Another oddity in Mr. Dominguez's report: Five more donations, each for $100, from P.O. Box 2832. Run "P.O. Box 2832 Santa Fe" through Google and what should turn up but Phase One, the developer of Santa Fe Estates, proposed site of the Thornburg office complex. (See Part 11, "The Thornburg Companies and United Way") The donors using that post office box include a Jim Mecheny, apparently a misspelling of Jim Metheny (Phase One Realty), and Bruce Geiss, another Phase One principal. In addition there is a Charlotte Varney, who also contributed $500 to the Berardinelli campaign from a different address, P.O. Box 1769.
Another cluster of $100 checks came from P.O. Box 1627, which (Google again) turns out to be Greer Enterprises, owner and developer of downtown and southside real estate. Alexis Girard of Greer also made separate contributions of $400 and $100. A Craig B. Young Sr. is listed as the vice president and secretary of the company, but at this point I don't know if he is from the same family.
The implications of all this seem clear. Santa Fe Grassroots may be just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, one small part of a widespread pattern of campaign irregularities.
Here is the full list of donations from Mr. Dominguez's first report (pdf file).
March 16, 2004
P.O. Box 1769, used by Charlotte Varney to contribute to the Berardinelli campaign, turns out to be the mailing address for Fox Investment Corp. and Fox Law Firm. The principal of both is John R. Fox, a former law partner of Karl Sommer's. (The firm used to be called Sommer, Fox, Udall.) I see now that a company identified only as FFT also used Box 1769 for a $200 Dominguez contribution. The Corporation Bureau lists the principal of FFT as John R. Fox. Among the other corporations for which he appears as a director is Phase One Consulting, which is now inactive. A co-director for that entity was John J. Grab, currently a director and officer of Phase One Development, Inc. Stories in the Journal and New Mexican archives show that Mr. Fox has a daughter named Charlotte Varney (The Santa Fe New Mexican, May 22, 1994, p. B2). In 1999 she was listed on the eighth grade honor roll at St. Michael's High (Albuquerque Journal North, July 13, 1999, p.5).
And P. O. Box 2832 (Phase One) was also used to make three contributions to Matthew Ortiz: $500 from Ernie and Teresa Romero, $250 from Ernie Romero and John Grubs, and $250 from LT Investors. Ernest A. Romero is president of Phase One Realty, Phase One Equities, Phase One Development, and Phase One Management. "Grubs" is probably a misspelling of Mr. Grab's surname. Mr. Romero is managing general partner of LT Investors.
Section 9-2.2 of the Campaign Code, "Purpose and Intent," appears to discourage splitting up what, in Santa Fe, still count as conspicuously large donations. The passage reads as follows:
It is the public policy of the city of Santa Fe: A. That public confidence in municipal government is essential and must be promoted by all possible means; B. That political campaign contributions and expenditures be fully disclosed to the public and that secrecy in the sources and application of such contributions be avoided; C. That the public's right to know how political campaigns are financed far outweighs any right that this matter remain secret and private; and D. That the public interest is served by encouraging the widest participation of the public in the electoral process by reducing the dependence of candidates on large contributions.
March 17, 11:07 a.m.
Santa Fe Grassroots filed its financial report yesterday, revealing its donors as Kurt Young, campaign manager for Eric Lujan, and Eli Senna, campaign manager for Rick Berardinelli and Carmichael Dominguez. As reported in the New Mexican ("Secret Buyers of Ads Come Forth"), Mr. Young contributed $3,557 to the group and loaned it $1,350, while Mr. Senna gave $6,694 and loaned $3,700.
After concealing his participation for two weeks, Mr. Young now proudly proclaims his role in the last-minute advertising barrage. "I pulled money out of my savings account," he told Tom Sharpe of The New Mexican. "That money could have gone to a trip in Hawaii, and now I probably wish it would have, but I believed in something and, my whole life, whenever I've believed in something, I went for it." He doesn't explain why he and various members of his family also contributed $200 to Mr. Beradinelli's opponent, the incumbent Karen Heldmeyer. (Her campaign manager told Mr. Sharpe that she has returned the money.)
Neither Mr. Sharpe nor John Huddy, the reporter for Journal North, was able to reach Mr. Senna to ask him what is perhaps the most compelling question: Whether he, a paid political consultant, made the contribution from his own pocket or was acting on behalf of his clients. Some clarification of this and other matters may come from an analysis of the Berardinelli and Dominguez reports, and from the eventual disclosure, required by the City Campaign Code, of how the loans are finally repaid.
In the meantime, a decision by the Federal Court of Appeals for the Seventh Judicial Circuit, handed down on Monday, may seriously weaken Santa Fe Grassroots's contention that the ordinance requiring identification on campaign material is a violation of the First Amendment. Upholding a similar but stronger Indiana law, the court drew a distinction between the rights of a lone pamphleteer like Mrs. McIntyre, opining about a referendum issue, and an election for public office, where questions of influence peddling may arise. Here are the key points:
-- "Anonymous statements about candidates for public office, even if true, can be very damaging, particularly if launched in the waning days of an election when it may be difficult or even impossible to achieve broad communication of any response."
-- "Charges can be leveled that no candidate would make because the claims would be deemed irresponsible, or would generate support from some groups, but a backlash from others. . . . If an identified third party wishes to sling some mud, there is still no practical remedy against the source, but at least the voters can evaluate the claim in light of its source." [italics added]
-- "Finally, in a candidate election, anonymous advertising permits a candidate to run on an issue without espousing it. By tacit agreement or even without implicit support from the candidate, the anonymous supporter can challenge an opponent's position on a given issue without putting the candidate's position in play. Several pernicious results occur. The candidate may not differ from the views that are being attacked, but does not need to declare a position. Or the candidate may have unspoken ties or obligations to groups whose agendas are well known, but who choose to fund advertising on completely unrelated issues. Only the disclosure of the identity of the funding agency prevents this."
What is ultimately at stake, the court decided, is "the integrity of the dynamic and multifaceted marketplace of ideas that drives a candidate election."
The full decision, Majors v. Abell, is available as a pdf download, and a summary of the case can be found here.
March 18, 7:44 p.m.
Update: Watch the papers tomorrow for a report that Santa Fe Grassroots has filed a lawsuit against the city contending that its campaign code, which requires that political advertisements include an identifying telephone number, is unconstitutional. How the lawyer for Mr. Young, Mr. Senna, and Councilor Pfeffer attempts to reconcile this with Majors v. Abell should make for interesting reading.
March 19, 11:24 a.m.
I haven't seen a copy of the lawsuit yet, but from the initial newspaper reports, Santa Fe Grassroots's legal argument sounds hollow: that the group is not a political committee (required to comply with city campaign laws) because it did not actually endorse any candidates -- it just attacked the three incumbents.
The city code defines a political action committee as "a political committee representing specific economic or ideological interests" and a political committee as "two or more persons selected, appointed, chosen, associated, organized or operating for purposes of election of a candidate or a ballot issue." So is organizing to defeat a candidate fundametally different? That seems like a meaningless distinction, especially when the two people who say they put up all the money, more than $15,000, happen to be the managers of the challengers' campaigns.
It will be fascinating to see how this all unfolds. John Huddy's report in Journal North mentions the case law that will likely come into play: McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, Majors v. Abell, and the McCain/Feingold campaign reform act, which I need to learn more about.
Sustaining a lawsuit through appeals that could conceivably go as far as the 10th Circuit in Denver or even the United States Supreme Court would be a very expensive enterprise, suggesting that the group has considerable resources to draw upon -- or that the lawsuit is a bluff. Mr. Henderson may be counting on the city, pressured by its ever-nervous insurance carriers, to immediately settle.
Meanwhile the question lingers of who else may have been behind Grassroots. Two more principals are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit: Mr. Young's wife, Joanna, and (here's a real ringer) Tom Hasse, described by Mr. Huddy as "the former mayor of Malibu, Calif., and now an Albuquerque resident." How he fits into the picture is unknown. Mr. Young recently lived in Malibu when he was attending Pepperdine University, but let's not speculate.
According to a short piece in this week's Reporter about the Santa Fe Review, Shelly Gunn and Kurt Young deny that they are related in any way to the Santa Fe developer Clemens Gunn. I can only conclude that theories to the contrary, which originated among opponents of the Thornburg development, are wrong.
I'm hoping to find time this weekend to go through the final campaign finance reports and see if anything new catches my eye.
March 19, 5:30 p.m.
I've received a long email from Tom Hasse giving some details of his relationship to Santa Fe Grassroots. He is indeed a former mayor of Malibu, as well as a former councilman. Kurt Young, he says, is his best friend, whom he has known since 1996 when they leased a house together. Mr. Hasse continues:
. . . Deciding to come out of retirement and join Kurt in this lawsuit was a major decision for me. But from what I have read (including, I must say, on your website) and seen, I am not going to sit back and see my best friend get railroaded by a bunch of no-growth extremists. . . . To use one's public office to go after one's opponents via a criminal investigation and possible prosecution because of a missing phone number is outrageous. And frankly, those same four councilors, given their public comments AT a City Council meeting clearly have not been taught the distinction between the legislative powers of the City Council and the power of prosecution by the City Attorney. Anonymous political advertising IS protected by the U.S. Constitution. Selective and malicious prosecution is not. We may yet see these four City Councilors in Court -- at the defense table. I co-authored Malibu's campaign finance law, and the Santa Fe campaign finance law has so many loopholes you could drive a truck through it. Since Ms. Bushee was on the Council when it was passed, did she vote for it? As I said, I'm not going to sit back given my experience and education in city government and let Kurt be railroaded by this fear-mongering foursome. The required Statement of Organization and Campaign Finance Disclosure reports were filed on time. Wasting taxpayer money on a political witch hunt because these four (and you?) think there MIGHT be bogeyman developers lurking around every corner is not just silly, but no-growth paranoia. (And maybe even an Oliver Stone screenplay). So if these four want a fight, in the words of John Kerry quoting George W. Bush -- Bring It On. I prefer retirement, but my old boxing gloves can be dusted off if need be.
Santa Fe's local political cartoonist, Jonathan Richards, takes on Grassroots again this Sunday in Journal North. A picture is worth a thousand words, and the cartoon consists of four panels, but I'll make do with less than 50. The walking burlap seed bag from last week's installment (labeled "Santa Fe Grass Roots. Grows best in concrete. Requires plenty of water. Thrives in dark, shady conditions") has come forth to tell its own story:
1. Just because 100 percent of our funding came from their campaign managers . . . 2. . . . it doesn't follow that those campaigns had anything to do with us. [Raises a finger for emphasis.] 3. It's all just a bizarre coincidence. 4. We have nothing to hide.
March 20, 10:30 a.m.
The debut a couple of weeks ago of the New Mexican's new Voices feature -- an expanded collection of local commentary -- was a welcome addition to the Sunday paper. It is disappointing, though, that the letters section still operates on what accountants call the FIFO system, first in, first out. As letters arrive, they go to the back of the line. Each day a few of the very oldest, which have worked their way forward, are sliced off like baloney and put in the paper.
Readers in the last three weeks, eager to see some public reaction to the hottest local political topic in years, have gone away unsatisfied. Never mind Santa Fe Grassroots. The editors have not yet run out of letters on the "Passion of Christ," the relocation of prairie dogs, and Howard Dean.
Journal North makes much better use of a significantly smaller space and, I suspect, many fewer contributions. From what I can tell as a reader, the policy is to give preference to letters that are current, speak about local issues, and do so with a certain amount of thoughtfulness.
Finally this morning, the Grassroots controversy did find its way into our paper of record's letters page, in the form of a dispatch from Councilor David Pfeffer documenting the veracity of the election-eve charges his spur-of-the-moment group made against the opponents of the Chamber of Commerce candidates.
He doesn't analyze the flyers the group sent by mail, one criticizing Councilor Heldmeyer for voting to increase her own salary. (She was the only councilor to vote against the raise, with Matthew Ortiz abstaining.) But he goes through the notorious Sunday newspaper ad in detail.
I've already written about the first contention, that the Terrible Three voted against the water budget.
As we know, they were actually sponsors of the legislation, which called for tying the approval of building permits and new subdivision plats to the availability of water. I recently reread the newspaper coverage of the 2002 water wars and was reminded again of the adeptness with which Councilors Pfeffer, Wurzburger, Ortiz, and Lopez hijacked the bill, substituting the much weaker plumbing retrofit program. This "nonbudget," as opponents called it, came to the floor of the council on August 26, and that is what Councilors Bushee, Heldmeyer, and Chavez voted against.
The retrofit program was certainly better than nothing, and as the ad states water consumption dropped by an estimated 53 million gallons, or 164 acre-feet of water. (How much of that was because of low-flow fixtures as opposed to conservation is unknown.) According to the USGS Otowi Gauge, the flow of the Rio Grande has doubled since I last checked to more than 1,000 cubic feet per second. So 164 acre feet is the amount of water currently flowing past us every two hours.
Other statements (and Mr. Pfeffer's justifications of them) are similarly deceptive. Did, for example, the three Councilors really vote against something as seemingly admirable as the Stone Creek Senior Affordable Housing Project?
Well, actually the proposed project, developed by one of Gerald Peters's corporate entities, the nonprofit Santa Fe Arts Foundation, wasn't even within the city limits.
Through some wheeling and dealing ("questionable legal hijinks," as a New Mexican editorial put it) the County Commission had granted the developer a "variance" allowing 120 units to be built, in Agua Fria, on land zoned for only 16. The county had made no provision to supply the project with water. Some residents of the village sued, and in the meantime Mr. Peters's people came to the city of Santa Fe asking it to extend its water lines beyond its own boundaries. The council, voting 5-3, denied the request. The minority consisted of Councilors Pfeffer, Wurzburger, and Lopez.
Appearing two days before the election, there was no way for these kinds of complexities to be sorted out in public debate. Nor could readers take into account the source of the advertisement, a group called Santa Fe Grassroots that no one had ever heard of.
That, of course, was precisely the intention, and it is why courts continually seek a balance between the right of free speech and the openness required to live in a democracy.
March 23, 2004
A number of interesting items appear in the campaign financial reports, all now complete except for Eric Lujan's. Joanna England, Kurt Young's wife, donated $1,000 to Carmichael Dominguez. And I see from an earlier report that Mr. Lujan paid Ms. England $1,944.38, apparently for ads placed in the New Mexican. Charlotte Varney of Post Office Box 1769 (see journal entry for March 16) also gave $200 to Mr. Lujan.
In the final days before the election, Mr. Dominguez received a flurry of checks from people in real estate and construction: $450 from David and Lisa Barker, $300 from Lee Clodfelter (one of the purchasers of the old St. Vincent Hospital property), $500 from N.M. Real Estate Inc., $1,000 from the Santa Fe Area Homebuilders Association, $500 from Burro Alley Partners (Dickie Montoya's realty investment company), $628.24 from something called NMRPAC, which has the same mailing address as the Realtors Association of New Mexico, $1,000 from Thornburg Enterprises, and another $100 from Steven Flance & Associates. Two campaign expenditures stand out. A payment of $250 was made to something called Growth Management Inc., which lists the same mailing address used by French & French Realty. Earlier a contribution for $200 was made by the same entity, using as its address 2240 W. Alameda #13. One of the names listed at that location is Paul Duran (a French & French realtor who is also a County Commissioner). Particularly striking is $2,050 in cash paid to a Lawrence Montoya of P. O. Box 29624. Apparently candidates are required to say who received money but not why.
As to be expected, many of Mr. Dominguez's and Mr. Beradinelli's expenditures are to the same companies -- their campaigns, after all, were practically identical: Arnett Designs, Target Marketing of Irvine California, and Colorado Printing and Choice Mail of Grand Junction (so much for buying local). Both paid $1,000 to the Santa Fe High ROTC, apparently for campaign legwork.
Most curious of all is what is not in the reports. Except for one $50 check from Mr. Berardinelli and one $40 check from Mr. Dominguez, neither campaign lists any payment to Eli Senna. In fact Mr. Senna's parents donated a total of $280 to Mr. Dominguez. Mr. Senna is known as a professional political operative (Rebecca Wurzburger paid him $2,000 to run her 2002 campaign). Was he really working for free?
Santa Fe Grassroots's filing doesn't reveal much that is new: Shelly Gunn earned $1,350 for her work. But here is something that caught my eye: A company listed as "Get Typed" was paid for typography services. Its real name is Get Type, but Mr. Berardinelli, Mr. Dominguez, and Santa Fe Grassroots all misspelled it the same way.
Finally, on a poignant note, here is one of Mr. Berardinelli's last expenditures: $1,410.41 to Black Tie Optional, presumably for a victory celebration.
I've posted the full set of reports.
Part 18. The Final Episode
If a lesson can be drawn from the unusual events directly preceding and following the 2004 election, maybe it is this: With so much money now riding on land-use decisions at City Hall, Santa Fe's era of small town politics has come to an end. Yet neither the city government nor the press have caught up with the change.
Candidates are still treated as little more than concerned citizens stepping forth to take their turn at civic duty -- the Norman Rockwell model of municipal government. What they say is accepted at face value, be it a promise made in a position paper or a financial report filed with the City Clerk.
This year's political coverage was better than in the past -- the best I've seen in the 12 years since I returned to New Mexico. But politics is not being reported as aggressively as it is being played. The newspaper publishers seem unwilling to devote the necessary resources, expecting a single reporter to cover the endless deliberations of the City Council, including every committee meeting of potential importance, while simultaneously following half a dozen or more campaigns.
What emerges sometimes resembles stenography more than journalism, a recitation of the candidates' positions or of who said what about whom at the previous evening's municipal forum. Pulled in many different directions and rushing to file on deadline, reporters are seldom left with the time for analytical or investigative journalism, or even for a detailed look at the ritualistic campaign financial reports. A few of the top contributions are cited in the stories. But with large donations broken up into small, inconspicuous fragments -- the only contact information often a post office box -- the names of some of this year's biggest contributors never appeared in the press.
When a maverick political group's advertising attack punctured the facade of politeness that was Santa Fe politics, the newspapers were barely equipped to respond. A campaign flyer was quoted as saying that a councilor voted herself a pay raise. The councilor was quoted as saying that she certainly did not. He said, she said -- as though this wasn't something that could be checked against the record, a statement of simple fact.
Santa Fe Grassroots contends that, except for a single typo, every statement in its Sunday newspaper ad was true. The incumbents say that every statement was false. What is missing is a story scrutinizing the charges and countercharges and reaching for the truth. Not everything is a matter of opinion.
Faced with possible violations of the Campaign Code, the City Attorney's office seemed almost flummoxed, unsure of whether it even had the power to prosecute. The matter was finally turned over to an Albuquerque detective agency for a $5,000 retainer -- enough to cover a messy divorce case but maybe not to answer two of the lingering questions: Whether Eli Senna really received only $90 for the months he spent running two of the challengers' campaigns, and whether he and Kurt Young were the only source of money behind Grassroots.
Omitting the required telephone number from the advertisements was in itself a trivial infraction. Even with those extra bytes of information, the source of the accusations would have been opaque. But this technical violation may be the only one within reach of the stunted arms of the law. Under the present ordinances, a group can form on the eve of an election, place a hit-and-run advertisement, and then identify itself, more or less, only after the votes are in.
With the possibility now of a protracted legal battle, it will be fascinating to see how this all turns out. I will be there only as a spectator. With this installment, "A Stroll Down Shirley Maclaine Boulevard" comes to an end, so I can attend to other matters: finishing a book on early 20th-century astronomy for W. W. Norton and starting another one on science's most beautiful experiments for Alfred A. Knopf. If time permits I may resume this effort in the summer, at a slower pace and a quieter volume, with a new tangent called "Memories of Overdevelopment."
From its beginnings as an inspiration that came on a hike up Atalaya Mountain, I've thought of the Santa Fe Review as one citizen's political journal, recording his observations on some issues profoundly affecting his town. Early on, I laid my cards on the table, including the fact that I had donated to one of the incumbent's campaigns.
I now see that as a mistake. First of all, I did not realize that it is a violation of the ethics guidelines of The New York Times, even for someone like me who is now a freelancer writing about things like quantum theory and particle physics. More generally, writers for the Times are not supposed to give the appearance of favoring one side over another in a political contest. Though I chafe a bit at the restriction, I respect the reasons it is there. The high standard to which the Times holds itself makes it admirable beyond any institution I know.
The donation was also a tactical mistake, making it a little too easy for some critics to dismiss my observations as campaign rhetoric. Though it may seem like an empty gesture, I have rescinded the contribution and will give the money instead to the Santa Fe Watershed Association and the Boys and Girls Club. Then I will step back from being a fly in the ointment to the more comfortable position of fly on the wall.
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