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N.M. Politicos Feud Over Email Ethics

Copyright © 2012 Albuquerque Journal

Political wrangling over use of private emails by government officials continued to escalate this week.

A progressive political advocacy group announced that it had obtained emails showing additional use of personal email accounts by members of Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration to conduct state business.

Meanwhile, supporters of the Republican governor pointed to questionable use of public or personal email accounts by Democratic legislators, former Gov. Bill Richardson and others.

One of the incidents noted by Republicans was Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, a top Democratic legislative leader, using his Legislature email account to announce his 2012 re-election bid.

The controversy over government officials’ email exploded publicly after a leaked document showed state Public Education Department officials in May used personal email accounts to discuss what they say was state businesses with other Martinez administration officials and the governor’s top political strategist, Jay McCleskey.

PED spokesman Larry Behrens, who sent the disputed email from his personal account, detailing his efforts to fill an information request from McCleskey, said his use of personal email accounts for all the recipients of the email was an oversight. Some of those addresses were affiliated with the governor’s political action committee.

Two Democratic legislators asked Attorney General Gary King to determine whether there was a violation of state law against using public resources for political purposes.

Martinez on Monday directed agencies under her control to use only state email accounts to conduct state business.

Critics suggested the use of private emails was partly an effort to insulate administration discussions from public records requests. The executive director of the Foundation for Open Government, Gwyneth Doland, called the governor’s directive “a huge step forward for government transparency.”

Later in the week, the nonprofit political group ProgressNow New Mexico weighed into the controversy by releasing administration emails the group obtained through the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act.

The group produced emails sent last year from a top Governor’s Office employee to the personal account of Economic Development Secretary Jon Barela. Another email was sent from Cultural Affairs Secretary Veronica Gonzales’ private account to the Governor’s Office and another Cultural Affairs official.

Barela had told the Journal he does not use private email accounts for official business. He said Thursday that once he received the email in question, he forwarded it to his state government account, and from there to the government accounts of department staffers for follow-up.

“I think I did absolutely the right thing. … It ended up in the public domain, which is exactly where it should be,” Barela said.

The governor’s deputy chief of staff, Ryan Cangiolosi , sent the email to Barela in May 2011, saying chief of staff Keith Gardner wanted updates on a jobs report and on department operations.

Cangiolosi could not be reached for comment about why his communication to Barela was sent from and to a personal email account. Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell said Friday that Cangiolosi “doesn’t recall” why the personal email account was used for state business.

Regarding the exchange of emails addressing Department of Cultural Affairs business from Secretary Gonzales, a spokeswoman said when the department secretary’s emails went to Cangiolosi, Gonzales was traveling, having cellphone problems and using her personal and state accounts interchangeably for convenience.

“At the time, she was aware these emails, both personal and state, were subject to public information requests,” spokeswoman Loie Fecteau said.

As partisan feuding over email ethics broadened, Republicans on Thursday asked the attorney general to investigate several elected Democrats for emails sent in 2008 and 2009 by a campaign supporter through his city of Albuquerque email account.

Republicans alleged Bernalillo County Commissioner Michelle Lujan Grisham, and state Sen. Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque, violated state campaign laws by exchanging emails with Albuquerque firefighters’ union President Diego Arencón.

Arencón used his city email account to coordinate the union’s campaign efforts on behalf of candidates — Grisham, who was running for the County Commission, and Keller, who was running for the state Senate.

Arencón this year was disciplined by the city for using his city email for political activity, along with misuse of other city resources for his union work.

“The Democrats’ hypocrisy over political emails brought to light these other examples,” state GOP spokeswoman Annaliese Wiederspahn wrote in an email statement. Wiederspahn refused to respond to Journal questions in a telephone interview.

Republicans asked King to investigate Jennings for using his legislative email account in March to announce his re-election bid. The issue would apparently be the same as in the request for an investigation of the PED incident: use of public resources for political or private purposes.

The Jennings story was reported in March by online journalist Heath Haussamen, and Jennings admitted the misuse then, although he said it was inadvertent.

Asked about it again this week, Jennings said he had meant to use his private account.

“I’m not real computer literate. … I was trying to get it done quick,” he said. “I said I was sorry.”

On Friday, Republicans added former Gov. Richardson to their target list, citing a personal email from Richardson to his spokesman, Gilbert Gallegos, that referred to an official speech Richardson gave at Escalante High School in May 2009. “Good speech whoever wrote it,” Richardson wrote.

Gallegos now works for Lujan Grisham’s congressional election campaign.

Republicans also cited a 2007 incident in which Richardson aide Caitlin Kelleher used her private email address to forward photos of Richardson in North Korea to her state email.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal