Commentary: New Mexico has laws preventing companies regulated by the Public Regulation Commission from contributing to those running to be PRC commissioners, but they don’t do any good.
That was made clear in the days leading up to Tuesday’s primary election when PNM Resources, the parent company to the largest regulated utility in the state, contributed $440,000 to help commissioners who they believed were friendly to their cause.
The money was directed to New Mexicans for Progress, a newly created political action committee that immediately went to work on a last-minute campaign to smear the challengers opposing their favored regulators – Sandy Jones and Linda Lovejoy.
“PNM Resources’ participation is legal, appropriate and necessary to help ensure a fair election,” said company official Leonard D. Sanchez. “Important policy decisions will be made by our next generation of elected officials, and we want to ensure that voters have the information to understand each candidate’s position on key public policy issues.”
Of course, the attack ads produced with the $440,000 had nothing to do with public policy issues. There was no mention of energy generation, the rate-making process, solar energy or any of the other issues facing the PRC that may have helped voters.
Rather, they were the same, old fare that we’ve come to expect from decades of being exposed to negative campaign ads – scary music, black-and-white photos resembling police mug shots and past voting records taken out of context.
I’m not sure how much elected regulators are going for these days, but it turns out that $440,000 wasn’t enough. Jones lost to Steve Fischmann by 1,204 votes and Lovejoy lost to Theresa Bencenti-Aguilar.
Give the voters credit. The attack ads came out too late in the process for a response, but voters were able to recognize garbage when they saw it.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that, despite its failed investment of shareholders’ money in this election, PNM Resources apparently believes it has a role to play in the selection of its regulators.
“PNM Resources is exercising its right to participate in the political process, as other groups and organizations do,” Sanchez said in his statement.
While it is true that other groups and organizations participate in the political process, none of them are regulated by the board selected through that process.
On Monday, Mariel Nanasi, executive director of the public advocacy group New Energy Economy, filed a motion before the PRC hearing examiner in the case of PNM’s Integrated Resource Plan, demanding that Jones and Lovejoy recuse themselves from the case.
“Never has it been clearer that PNM not only buys influence, their attempt to actually install their preferred regulators is not only unprecedented but illegal and stunningly offensive,” Nanasi said.
Any decision made by the hearing officer could be overturned by the commission. That could lead to a hearing by the state Supreme Court.
Jones and Lovejoy may be on their way out, but that won’t fix the problem. PNM and other regulated utilities can’t pick their regulators. The state needs to shut the back door that’s allowing them into the process.