Allison Kuper Smith describes herself as a businesswoman who specializes in government and lands clients on her own merit.
She says her influential mother, state Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, has no involvement in her company that tracks legislation.
Smith’s business, Roadrunner Capitol Reports, lists its address as 904 Conway Ave. in Las Cruces. That is Papen’s home address, too.
Smith says she owns half the house, and she and her husband live there with her mother. Smith’s separate lobbying business, though, lists a different home address in Las Cruces.
Her customers for tracking data on legislation include two state agencies, the Public Regulation Commission and the Environment Department. Both also deal with Papen, a Democrat who is the highest-ranking member of the Senate.
Smith said each agency called her to inquire about the service she provides. She gave them an overview and a quote on the cost. Then they signed up.
If that’s what happened, these no-bid contracts might be a violation of the New Mexico Governmental Conduct Act.
Section 10-16-9 of the law says this: “A state agency shall not enter into a contract for services, construction or items of tangible personal property with a legislator, the legislator’s family or with a business in which the legislator or the legislator’s family has a substantial interest unless the legislator has disclosed the legislator’s substantial interest and unless the contract is awarded in accordance with the provisions of the Procurement Code, except the potential contractor shall not be eligible for a sole source or small purchase contract. A person negotiating or executing a contract on behalf of a state agency shall exercise due diligence to ensure compliance with the provisions of this subsection.”
Reading rules written by lawyers makes my head hurt. But the law’s intent is clear to Beverly Garcia, owner of a rival tracking service, New Mexico Legislative Reports.
She said the law prohibits government agencies from contracting with the daughter of a senator.
Garcia filed a complaint in November with the Attorney General’s Office. She has not received a response.
I asked Matt Baca, a spokesman for Attorney General Hector Balderas, about the status of Garcia’s complaint.
“I can confirm that the Office of the Attorney General received an inquiry on this matter and that it is under review,” Baca said in an email this week.
Smith, who previously held jobs in the Legislature dating to 1994, said she had been unaware of the law restricting government departments from doing business with people who are related to legislators. Her mother, a senator since 2001, did not respond to requests for an interview.
Garcia is frustrated by the lack of action by Balderas’ staff.
“Even our attorney general has not followed up on something that is so blatant,” she said.
To Garcia, there is an unmistakable connection between Papen’s clout and her daughter’s business receiving government contracts.
In addition to the PRC and the Environment Department, the State Land Office subscribed to Smith’s tracking service when it was headed by Republican Aubrey Dunn Jr.
Garcia said those eager to ingratiate themselves with the senator can do so by patronizing her daughter’s business.
“People are generally afraid to buck power,” Garcia said. “State agencies have to go to the Legislature for their budget. And everyone is aware of Papen’s power. She appoints the committee chairs who hear legislation.”
Smith tells a different story.
“I haven’t gotten a single client because of my mother,” she said. “My mother is not even aware of who my clients are.”
Smith said she has built her own reputation at the Capitol. She worked on legislative staffs before her mother’s election. Smith launched her lobbying business in 2006 and began her tracking service on legislation in 2015 to compete with Garcia’s company.
In a series of interviews, Smith said she would place a disclaimer on her company website about her mother being a senator. She later said she was being held to a higher standard than her competitor.
Finally, Smith said she didn’t want to comment further because she had not seen Garcia’s complaint and was entitled to due process.
Garcia said she remains at a disadvantage because powerful people are ignoring the law.
This week, Garcia said, “I received a call from an existing state agency subscriber saying that another service, Roadrunner, had approached them about buying a subscription for half the price that I charge. I spent considerable time explaining the differences in service and bringing the caller up to date on prohibitions against buying from a legislator’s family. Had the agency not called to discuss the price differential, Roadrunner would have probably scored another illegitimate contract.”
Papen, 87, told me earlier this summer that she plans to run for reelection to the Senate next year. She has drawn two challengers so far. A three-way race would favor Papen, assuming she holds her base and the upstarts split the rest of the vote.
Smith’s husband, Gregory, also is in government. He is running for mayor of Las Cruces after two terms as a city councilor.
Politics is the family business as well as a collision sport. This case needs a linesman.
Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-986-3080.