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Ad lauds gov. over system shake-up

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SANTA FE – A radio spot touting Gov. Susana Martinez’s handling of a behavioral health system shake-up is hitting New Mexico airwaves.

The ad is paid for by a nonprofit group called New Mexico Competes, which was first registered earlier this year and does not plan to publicly disclose its donors.

The group’s executive director, Sara Lister, said Wednesday that the spot will air on radio stations statewide for the rest of this week. She also suggested the nonprofit will be an active player in coming months.

“Moving forward, New Mexico Competes will continue to educate New Mexicans on polices that promote a dynamic economic climate in our state, including improved schools, pro-growth, and anti-fraud policies,” Lister said in an email.

Lister previously worked for now-retired Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and was involved in President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign in New Mexico. More recently, she served as deputy Cabinet secretary for the state Department of Workforce Solutions.

The ad paid for by New Mexico Competes says Martinez is “cracking down” on Medicaid fraud. It urges listeners to call the Governor’s Office to express support for her actions.

Fifteen nonprofit behavioral health providers in New Mexico had Medicaid payments suspended by the state in June after an audit showed $36 million in overbilling, mismanagement and possible fraud, according to the state Human Services Department, which said it was acting under federal requirements.

The audit has been referred to Attorney General Gary King’s office but has not been publicly released. King’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit is investigating.

Twelve of the 15 behavioral providers have been replaced by Arizona companies brought in by HSD, while two others are under the temporary management of Arizona companies.

The Martinez administration has been criticized by some Democratic lawmakers for disrupting the behavioral health system. Some of the providers have said they haven’t been allowed due process in connection with the administration’s actions.

One provider executive, Marti Everitt, the CEO of Counseling Associates Inc. of Roswell, said Wednesday that she was not surprised to hear of the radio ad.

“This whole thing is so political right now,” Everitt said. “It’s a public relations campaign – we’ll see who wins.”

New Mexico Competes is a tax-exempt organization under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code, Lister said. The group registered as a nonprofit in April with the Washington, D.C., Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, but is not required to file a report with the office until April 2014, an agency worker said Wednesday.

Martinez’s political consultant Jay McCleskey said the nonprofit is not connected to the Republican governor.

“Gov. Martinez and her political committee did not form this organization, nor control its activities,” McCleskey said Wednesday.

Unlike political committees, which have to disclose their donors, nonprofits do not have to report from where they get their money. Other tax-exempt groups have also been active on hot-button state issues, including the Albuquerque-based Center for Civic Progress.

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