Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Democratic state auditor candidate Joseph Maestas is pushing back against claims from a labor union that he received an improper campaign contribution.
The local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union this week accused Maestas of taking the $2,500 campaign contribution from Joe Henri, an Atlanta resident who is also a renewable energy executive, in exchange for favorable treatment regarding community solar rules that were adopted in March by the Public Regulation Commission.
Henri is a board member of the Coalition for Community Solar Access, a Washington, D.C.-based group that lobbied the PRC during its consideration of new solar energy rules.
The group at one point successfully requested more time to file a response in the case, a motion that was backed by other energy groups and the Attorney General’s Office.
Maestas, who is the PRC chairman and is running against fellow Democrat Zack Quintero for the state auditor post, said Wednesday he did not know Henri was on the board of the community solar group at the time he received the contribution.
“These are unsupported and reckless allegations about a contribution that is legal,” Maestas told the Journal.
He also said the union’s criticism of him stemmed from his opposition as a PRC commissioner to a proposed merger of Public Service Company of New Mexico, the state’s largest utility, with energy giant Avangrid.
The union had offered him its endorsement and a $5,000 campaign contribution if the merger were to win approval, Maestas said, but it was unanimously rejected by all five PRC commissioners.
“I believe in the voters – the voters are smart,” he added. “These are unfounded allegations and they have a smell of petty politics.”
The electrical workers union has already filed a complaint with the State Ethics Commission against Maestas for accepting a separate $250 donation from the executive director of New Energy Economy, a nonprofit group that also regularly testifies before the PRC.
In a statement this week, the union’s business manager Pete Trujillo called the donation from Henri “unethical.”
“I am shocked and enraged that a sitting member of the PRC took this contribution and made a regulatory decision that directly benefited this group,” Trujillo said.
The primary race between Maestas and Quintero has featured back-and-forth jabs over experience and integrity, with Maestas accusing Quintero of embellishing his resume.
The winner of the June 7 contest will be in line to take over as New Mexico’s next state auditor in January, as there are no Republicans running for the office that’s currently held by Democrat Brian Colón.
Quintero, a former state ombudsman, said the contribution is the second received by Maestas from individuals who have interests in regulatory decisions made by the PRC, which will be overhauled next year under a 2020 constitutional amendment approved by statewide voters.
“New Mexicans deserve better from their public servants,” he said in a statement.