- Associated Press - Saturday, March 11, 2017

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - A New Mexico state senator withdrew a bill Saturday to extend a state government lease after learning of political contributions by the privately held property’s owners and developers to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

Sen. Steven Neville, R-Aztec, sought to suspend the Senate-approved bill he sponsored after two state Cabinet secretaries informed him of the political contributions.

The bill would have waived a 20-year time restriction on the state’s lease of two buildings in Albuquerque. It would have cleared the way for a seven-year lease extension and expansion of Children, Youth and Family Department facilities that was negotiated directly with the property owners, after earlier offers from competitive bidding were rejected by state procurement officials as unaffordable.

General Services Secretary Ed Burckle said political contributions totaling $26,200 were made in 2014 and 2015 to the governor’s campaign fund and the Susana PAC political committee by two people with financial stakes in the buildings.

Burckle and Children, Youth and Families Secretary Monique Jacobson said they confirmed the contributions through the Secretary of State Office’s website on Friday and came to the state Capitol on Saturday to notify Neville and apologize.

Burckle said previous searches of the website were unintentionally limited to political donors with addresses in New Mexico, leaving out the relevant information.

Neville said he had asked repeatedly about any possible political ties or contributions on the project without learning about the sizeable donations, as he guided the bill through two Senate committees and a successful floor vote at the request of the General Services Department.

“We didn’t get that information, so we went through here telling everybody there was no involvement with the governor and politics in general and that wasn’t true,” he explained after the announcement. “This bill is dead.”

The revelations set off an uproar on the Senate floor Saturday by lawmakers who said they felt deceived by the silence of the property developers and the Martinez administration.

A spokesman for the governor pointed out that the campaign contributions were disclosed properly and readily available on a government website.

“The idea that we would try to hide information that the governor has publicly reported and disclosed and is readily available to the public on a government website is absurd,” spokesman Michael Lonergan said in a statement.

Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, said he voted against the lease waiver based on intuition and said that the Senate deserved to be notified directly of the political donations.

“I think some of us were concerned that this was being done to put a stamp of approval of the Legislature on a transaction,” he said. “I cannot believe for a moment that the governor and her administration and staff were not aware that this was an important issue for the Senate and this chamber to know about any financial ties between the owners of this property and the administration.”

The lease would have added a 20,000 square foot extension to Children, Youth and Families Department facilities to help the agency care for minors as they are taken into custody and await placement in foster care.

Burckle says he has the authority to waive the 20 year lease restriction by declaring an emergency, but came to the Legislature for approval in the “effort to be completely open and transparent about this transaction.”

Burckle said he never communicated with the governor about possible political ties to the developers.

“There’s a wall between the political side of the governor’s office and running state government, and so I stay on the state government side,” he said. “And I think that’s actually a good policy.”

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