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Gift to PAC Aids Land Boss

By Rene Romo
Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Southern Bureau
    LAS CRUCES— A political action committee received thousands of dollars in contributions from a developer who was dealing with the state Land Office last fall, then reported giving similar amounts on the same days to the re-election campaign of Land Commissioner Patrick Lyons.
    According to records on file with the secretary of state:
   
  • On Aug. 7, developer Philip Philippou of Las Cruces gave $10,000 to the Santa Fe-based Blue & Red PAC. The same day, the PAC gave $7,500 to the Committee to Re-Elect Pat Lyons.
       
  • On Sept. 8, Philippou gave the Blue & Red PAC a contribution of $10,500. The same day, Blue & Red gave $8,000 to Lyons' re-election campaign and spent $2,142.50 on campaign T-shirts for Lyons.
        Lyons signed a potentially lucrative no-bid contract with Philippou on Dec. 26 to master-plan a 4,200-acre tract of state trust land and seek its annexation by Las Cruces.
        The deal was signed at the same time the Land Office was advertising for proposals to provide master planning for state trust lands in the area. Those proposals were not due until Feb. 1.
        Assistant Land Commissioner Jerry King had been talking to Philippou's representatives about the planning lease for the Vistas at Presidio area since early last year, said state Land Office spokeswoman Kristin Haase.
        Lyons has said he didn't wait for other proposals because the one Philippou proposed was so good. He said through a spokeswoman that the PAC contributions didn't affect his office's dealing with Philippou's company, and that he didn't know the PAC money had come from Philippou.
        One of the Blue & Red PAC's founders, lobbyist David Kimble, cautioned against the idea that Philippou's gifts to the Blue & Red PAC were intended for Lyons' campaign.
        "People can paint a picture, but it wasn't meant that way," said Kimble, who also has represented the Philippou company, Katerina Inc., over the last year.
        Lyons, a Republican, was facing a re-election challenge from former Democratic land commissioner Jim Baca last fall. The PAC on July 14, a couple of months earlier, had given Lyons' re-election campaign $2,000.
       
    Decisions 'left to organization'
        Philippou declined this week to answer questions in person about his contributions to the Blue & Red PAC.
        But in a prepared statement issued this week, a spokesman said Philippou makes contributions to a variety of organizations, including charities, and that decisions about how those funds are spent are "left to the organization, not the donor."
        In other developments:
       
  • Wilson Binkley Advertising and Marketing, a Las Cruces firm that had been providing public relations services for Philippou on the Vistas at Presidio project, ended its contract with Philippou on Tuesday.
       
  • Lawyer Joel Newton, who had represented the developer before the Las Cruces City Council on the Vistas project, said Tuesday that he was no longer working for Philippou.
       
    Lobbying Cruces
        Philippou, acting as Lyons' agent in recent weeks in a proposal to the Las Cruces City Council, has petitioned the city to annex 4,200 acres of state trust land on the fast-growing East Mesa near the Organ Mountains.
        The 4,200 acres is part of a larger 5,900-acre stretch of desert Philippou has master-planned as a development called the Vistas at Presidio. When built out, the development could hold 35,000 new dwellings and double the population of Las Cruces, the state's second-largest city, after Albuquerque.
        Philippou's company, Katerina Inc., also signed a second lease with the state Land Office on Dec. 26 to provide planning services for about 900 acres north of U.S. 70.
        The state Land Office sold Katerina Inc. a 641-acre section of land within the proposed Vistas annexation area on April 10 for $6 million.
        The lobbyists who operate the Blue & Red PAC, Kimble and his lobbyist partner Dominic Silva, said this week that Philippou never told them how to use his donations to the PAC, nor did he ask about whom they planned to give money to.
        Kimble and Silva said they never informed Lyons that their PAC's donations to his campaign were largely financed by Philippou's gifts.
        "We just made the decision who to give to," Kimble said.
        Silva said, "He (Philippou) didn't tell us to put money into anything specifically. He told us to put it into races of candidates who were business-friendly, and that's what our PAC did."
        Lyons also said he did not know about sources of Blue & Red's funds.
        "People who manage PACs don't share where their money comes from with the recipients," said a statement from Lyons' office in response to questions from the Journal.
        Of the $23,500 in contributions collected by the Blue & Red PAC in a three-month reporting period that ended Oct. 10, $20,500— or 87 percent— came from another Philippou company, Terra Firma, the PAC's state reports show.
        The rest of the PAC's donations during that period come from Silva and Kimble.
        During the same three-month reporting period, nearly two-thirds of the Blue & Red PAC's funds went to Lyons 2006 re-election campaign.
        The Blue & Red PAC's name refers to the fact that Kimble is a Republican and Silva a Democrat. The PAC, formed in May, gave to Republican and Democratic candidates alike, including $5,000 to the re-election campaign of Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson.