Our IPRA request sought documents pertaining to lucrative contracts awarded by the AG to his personal friend Attorney Marcus Rael and to out of state legal firms that gave tens of thousands in campaign contributions to both AG Balderas and State Auditor and AG Candidate Brian Colon
Today New Energy Economy filed a complaint against the Office of the Attorney General of New Mexico (AGO) in the First District Court to force AG Hector Balderas to comply with a New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) request for all documents concerning lucrative contracts with his associate Attorney Marcus Real and out of state law firms that contribute to his campaign. After five unsuccessful requests to obtain the requested inspection of public records, New Energy Economy has requested that the First District Court order the AGO to produce all of the responsive documents, in unredacted form, and award statutory damages and attorney fees and costs reasonably incurred in bringing this action to enforce IPRA.
In February 2021 Attorney Marcus Rael, a long time friend and former law partner of Attorney General Balderas, was retained for $350,000 by Iberdrola, parent company of Avangrid, to lobby the AGO to settle the Avangrid/PNM merger. Though later barred from the case by the Hearing Examiner due to concurrent conflicts of interest, Attorney Marcus Rael was effective in his advocacy. After meeting with Rael, the AGO signed on to the Avangrid merger settlement agreement even though the AGO’s own experts wrote testimony opposing the deal as contrary to the public interest. On April 9, 2021, in an effort to understand the AGO’s decision, NEE’s Executive Director, Mariel Nanasi, submitted a written request to the office of the Attorney General requesting the inspection of certain public documents that reflected communications, contracts, or agreements between the AGO and Marcus Rael or his law firm, Robles, Rael, and Anaya P.C., “from January 1, 2015 to the present,” and other outside counsel that were awarded no-bid contracts.
The lawsuit filed today raises concerns that the AGO’s failure to comply with the IPRA request is indicative of a pattern of corrupt and unethical conduct and may be an attempt to cover up the questionable dealings between the Attorney General and his long-time friend and former law partner Marcus Rael, dealings that directly undermined his responsibility to protect the public interest and NM ratepayers in the Avangrid/PNM merger case, and that call into question decisions made to contract with Marcus Rael and his law firm in numerous other important cases to the tune of millions of taxpayer dollars.
Indeed, in the course of our efforts to understand the relationship between Attorney General Balderas and Marcus Rael, our research led to the further discovery of what appears to be a pay to play scheme involving tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to the Attorney General from out of state law firms who were then provided lucrative contracts resulting in millions of dollars for legal representation in a wide variety of cases. These include:
This practice appears to be continuing, with tens of thousands contributed to date by some of the same law firms to State Auditor Brian Colon, another long-time friend and former law partner of Marcus Rael and Hector Balderas, who is now running to succeed AG Balderas.
Though the NM IPRA requires the delivery of documents “no later than 15 days” after the request, nearly a year has passed and the AGO continues to withhold documents requested, has omitted certain information, and has redacted many of the documents it has produced, contrary to the law.
The Attorney General’s “Inspection of Public Records Compliance Guide” states that New Mexico’s Public Records Act “requires public access to virtually all public records; it is one of the fundamental rights afforded to people in a democracy.” Our lawsuit challenges whether the AG himself is bothering to comply with his own Compliance Guide. We believe he is not. The documents he appears to be withholding seem likely to show that there is a pay-to-play scheme that channels lucrative contracts under which outside law firms reap enormous fees and profits from New Mexico’s public. The law firms gave handsomely to Mr. Balderas and have continued with Mr. Colon. The relationships have the appearance of pay-to-play, not arm’s length transactions. We’ve asked for all of the documents underlying these relationships but have only received some. We want the rest and have filed this suit to get them. They will bear directly on whether Hector Balderas, Brian Colon and the Rael Law Firm are representing the public or themselves.