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Editorial: NM AG’s staff must serve public, not special interests

“Our Vision: We aspire to be an innovative leader in New Mexico, recognized for proactively finding solutions and responding to evolving needs by building partnerships with individuals, community organizations, government agencies and businesses.”

– New Mexico Attorney General’s Office website

“Building partnerships” sounds good, especially if it helps stretch every dollar you have for the public you serve – until it turns out one of the partners answers to a very different master. And so New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas – the state’s top prosecutor and defender of everything from consumer rights to open, accountable government – has a very important question to answer:

Does his office serve the taxpayers of New Mexico? Or a special interest group out of New York?

According to a Journal article published Monday, the AG’s Consumer and Environmental Protection Division has two outside attorneys employed through the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center at the NYU School of Law – an entity established two years ago with a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies.

At first blush that might seem OK; after all, isn’t everyone in favor of energy and the environment? But a second look should raise the concern that these attorneys have an agenda that puts something other than N.M. taxpayers first.

Remember, this is the same former New York Mayor Bloomberg who poured $1.13 million into a failed effort to impose a sin tax on sugary beverages sold in Santa Fe and $400,000 into New Mexico Democrats’ campaigns with the (successful) goal of a universal background check on firearm purchases.

So there’s little question that Bloomberg money often drives an agenda – agree with that agenda or not. Larry Behrens, spokesman of right-leaning Power the Future, brought the Bloomberg deal to light, and his group also has an agenda. So imagine if instead, two attorneys from a Koch Brothers pro-fossil fuels group were in the Consumer and Environmental Protection Division. How would that play?

The AG’s Office says it has other employees paid for by settlements, it’s not unusual to fund staffing with outside grants and that it – not NYU – supervises the two attorneys in question. But settlements are done deals awarded to the state for wrongs done to it; there is nobody in a home office with a specific agenda sending a check every month.

The top prosecutorial office in the state needs to be above reproach, and Balderas has to recognize this arrangement is not. While it added two attorneys to his staff, it did so at the expense of his office’s independence and impartiality – even if it’s in appearance only. It’s essential Balderas takes a step back and remembers who elected him and whom he works for.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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