News Column

NM Agency Compiled Email List for Governor's PAC

June 12, 2012

Steve Terrell

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez

An email obtained by a Democratic political action committee indicates state employees and computers at the Public Education Department were used to compile lists of nonunion teachers and their email addresses for Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's political director.

According to the email, sent May 2 by department spokesman Larry Behrens to political director Jay McCleskey and several government officials, the department's Information Technology Division compiled a list of all teachers and their emails. Behrens also said the department's budget staff compiled a list of which school districts have union contracts, and created a list of nonunion teachers' emails.

Behrens on Monday denied that he was doing work for McCleskey or Martinez's political operation. He said compiling the lists was in partial response to a public records request from McCleskey.

But the spokesman used a personal email account for the response, which was sent to nongovernment email accounts for all the state officials he forwarded it to. Behrens said that was an "oversight."

"I should have responded to the request on my state email address because responding to a request for public information is state business," Behrens told a reporter Monday.

The email was unearthed by Independent Source PAC, an organization headed by private detective Michael Corwin, who has worked as an "opposition research" man for former Gov. Bill Richardson and other Democrats. The group has been highly critical of both Martinez and Public Education Department Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera over the past year.

"Hey All," Behrens wrote in the email. "Attached are the teachers lists and here's how we got them just in case there's any holes I haven't thought of.

"We have no master list of all teacher e-mails so [information technology personnel] went through websites school-by-school and copied the publicly available staff emails. They formed the attached 'TeachersAll' spread sheet.

"We asked the budget division which districts have unions or agreements and they provided me with a list," Behrens continued. "Using the [department's] district codes, I filtered the addresses to pull out the non-union districts and the e-mails collected from each. So the 'FinalEmailList A' should be all the non-union teachers from the e-mails we've been able to gather."

The email with both lists attached was sent to McCleskey and the others, including Martinez's chief of staff, Keith Gardner, her spokesman, Scott Darnell, Skandera and her chief of staff. Skandera, using a personal email account, forwarded Behrens' email to the governor -- at her campaign email account -- with the message, "FYI" (meaning "for your information").

The email addresses for Gardner and Darnell were at "SusanaPAC.com." Susana PAC is the name of Martinez's political action committee.

Asked about his involvement in Susana PAC and whether the administration uses private emails to communicate about government business, Darnell said, "The Governor's Office and members of her administration have worked diligently to separate their official public business from any political activities they may be involved in or made aware. The susanapac.com email address was originally established during the transition [formerly susana2010.com] and is now utilized for nongovernment work, including daily political and news clippings."

Darnell said he and Gardner aren't officials with the political committee.

Behrens said that after sending the lists of teachers to McCleskey, a McCleskey assistant filed a subsequent request "seeking a complete list with physical addresses." On May 21, the department denied that request, "as the complete information requested was deemed not public information," Behrens said.

"When I responded to the follow-up portion of the request with a denial, we communicated that denial over state email," Behrens said.

It is not clear what the purpose of compiling lists of nonunion teachers might have been. McCleskey, who served as a consultant in Martinez's successful 2010 gubernatorial campaign, has been paid more than $100,225 in consulting fees by Susana PAC.

McCleskey on Monday backed up what Behrens said. "Like nearly every political organization, we request public information from all sorts of agencies throughout the state -- Democrat and Republican," he said. "In this case, the list we received pursuant to the original request was nothing more than public school addresses and therefore unusable. We followed up with an IPRA request for the detailed list and that request was denied."

If Public Education Department employees did perform work for the governor's political committee, it could be seen as a possible violation of the state Government Conduct Act. That law prohibits state employees from "directly or indirectly coercing or attempting to coerce another public officer or employee to pay, lend or contribute anything of value to a party, committee, organization, agency or person for a political purpose."

The act also prohibits state employees from using "property belonging to a state agency ... or allow its use, for other than authorized purposes."



Source: (c) 2012 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.)


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