SunCal Shines No Light on New Mexico Lobbying Expenditures
Although SunCal has spent huge sums of cash attempting to influence New Mexico’s residents and state legislators over the past three years, the goliath developer doesn’t appear very diligent when it comes to complying with state lobbying law.
SunCal’s latest request of the state’s taxpayers is $690 million worth of tax increment development district (TIDD) bonds to develop a 55,000 acre tract of land to the west of Albuquerque. The measure was shot down last year, but bills have resurfaced this year in both the state house and senate.
A complaint filed by Albuquerque resident Lora Lucero last week accused SunCal of failing to comply with the state Lobbyist Regulation Act. SunCal has mounted a massive public relations campaign, using billboards, radio spots, and internet advertising (“TIDDs Keep Our Families Together!”) in an attempt to sway public opinion on the public bonding capacity it has requested from the state.
New Mexico’s Lobbyist Regulation Act requires that all lobbying and related expenses be disclosed to the state within 48 hours of the expenditure. This includes advertising, mailers to constituents concerning legislation and polls conducted concerning legislation. As of the beginning of last week, SunCal had only reported one expense of $196. The noncompliance complaint sparked an onslaught of critical media to which the company responded midweek by filing current expenditures reports with the state. (As of this posting, they have not yet been made available on the Secretary of State’s website.)
Opposition is mounting to the company’s explicitly political methods of procuring public bonds. Real estate developers in New Mexico outspend other lobbies by leaps and bounds. During the 2006 election cycle, the real estate/development industry donated nearly $1.5 million to state politicians’ political campaigns. (Forest City Covington, the development company that pushed to enact the legislation enabling the creation of TIDDs, spent $150,000 alone.)
[caption id="attachment_668" align="alignright" width="179" caption="A SunCal advertisement that was run in the Albuquerque Journal in late 2008 and early 2009"][/caption]
SunCal is also encountering criticism in other locales for its insistence on using taxpayers' money as a business strategy. In Alameda, California, the company is seeking a roughly $700 million subsidy for a proposed development. Public subsidies are rarely granted without generating a little controversy, and to counter this in Alameda, SunCal contacted residents with a telephone survey about a legislative measure that would exempt the company from the city’s growth management plan. Some residents who received the call contend that the survey was designed to disseminate information (a technique sometimes known as a push poll) about the measure in a way that was partial to SunCal’s political and financial objectives.
All of this is surfacing at a time when subsidiaries and affiliates of the company are experiencing a wave of bankruptcies. Fifteen of these bankrupt projects were partnerships with evaporated financial giant, Lehman Brothers. SunCal projects are defaulting on loans, failing to make payments to contractors, and getting slapped with liens, lawsuits, and repossessions in multiple states.
In the context of a tanking residential real estate markets and strapped state and local budgets, betting on a company whose subsidiaries and affiliates are missing payments to their creditors, relying on massive subsidies, and being accused of noncompliance with state lobbying regulations sounds like a poor investment decision, wouldn’t you agree?