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Tribal company opens pocketbook for lawmakers

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With an upcoming fight over possible casino competition from the Navajo Nation, a Laguna Pueblo company made nearly $18,000 in campaign contributions to state legislators in the final months of last year.

The Navajo Nation didn’t make any donations to lawmakers, and it lost the fight when the Legislature in February rejected a state-tribal compact that would have allowed the tribe to open three new casinos.

Laguna Development Corp. spread at least $17,750 among 57 legislators, both Democrats and Republicans, in the few months prior to the start of the legislative session in January. That’s about half of the members of the House and Senate. Of the 57 who received campaign contributions, 21 were senators who aren’t facing re-election this year.

Laguna Development has long been a significant donor to lawmakers, and the contributions in the final months of 2013 were enough for the company to make the top 10 list of biggest donors to legislators and legislative candidates over a six-month ended last month.

“We want people to get to know us,” says Kathy Gorospe, chief of government relations for Laguna Development. “We look at it as relationship building.”

As in the past, the list of largest contributors to legislators and legislative candidates was dominated by energy companies and other business interests.

During the legislative session, Laguna Pueblo and the development company, which manages the pueblo’s casinos on Interstate 40 west of Albuquerque, said new Navajo Nation casinos would cannibalize existing tribal casinos. Other pueblos joined Laguna in the fight.

The House approved the Navajo Nation compact 36-30, but the Senate rejected it by a three-to-one margin.

Of the lawmakers who received donations from Laguna Development, 32 sided with the company in voting to reject the Navajo Nation compact. A total of 24 voted for the compact and one didn’t vote.

The Navajo Nation didn’t make any contributions to legislators or legislative candidates in the six-month campaign-finance reporting period ended April 7. Its gaming enterprise did donate $2,500 in November to the leadership fund of House Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Grants. Martinez’s re-election campaign received $1,000 from Laguna Development.

The House speaker, whose district includes much of Laguna Pueblo and several Navajo communities, says he voted for the Navajo Nation compact out of respect for its government’s decision to approve the deal with the state.

Laguna Development has been a large donor to legislators and legislative candidates for at least a decade.

“We want to be supportive when they’re supportive,” Gorospe says.

The $17,750 in donations by Laguna Development in the final months of 2013 was about what it contributed in 2011 and 2012 to lawmakers and legislative candidates for the 2012 elections, when all 112 seats in the House and Senate were at stake.

Gorospe says Laguna Development traditionally makes its donations at the beginning and end of the year. Some years, there is more to hand out; some years, there is less, she says.

Gorospe says the Navajo Nation compact was the key issue of the legislative session for Laguna Pueblo and the development company but that their agenda for the session also included funding for public works projects, issues related to education and other matters.

Biggest givers

With its contributions to lawmakers in the six-month period ended April 7, Laguna Development ranked No. 8 among the largest donors to legislators and legislative candidates for the period.

That is according to a computer-assisted analysis of more than 4,400 donations totaling about $1.4 million that were reported by legislators and legislative candidates to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Contributions by the top 10 givers accounted for 20 percent of all the donations.

Here’s the top 10 list:

1) Devon Energy: $63,900

2) Builders Trust of New Mexico/New Mexico Home Builders Association: $43,200

3) Occidental Petroleum/affiliates: $34,200

4) Republican Leadership PAC: $32,594

5) Chevron: $29,100

6) Realtors Association of New Mexico PAC: $24,000

7) Health Care Service Corp. (parent of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico): $23,250

8) Laguna Development Corp.: $18,000

9) Altria Group (tobacco): $17,000

10) PNM Responsible Citizens Group: $16,200

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Thom Cole at tcole@abqjournal.com or 505-992-6280 in Santa Fe. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

 

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