PRC candidates had already been barred from accepting contributions from regulated companies’ employees and officers, but until the Voter Action Act passed, lobbyists could donate large sums for their regulated clients.
But blood is thicker than money and, in the case of Jerome Block Jr., the Democratic nominee for the PRC’s 3rd District, severing kinship ties to regulated entities isn’t so easy.
Block’s father, Jerome Block Sr., a former commissioner for the PRC and its predecessor agency, is employed by Mescalero Apache Telecom, Inc., a PRC-regulated corporation, as a government liaison, a job that includes negotiating with the PRC.
In recent weeks, Block Sr. has sent e-mails from his MATI e-mail account and posted comments on blogs in response to SFR-initiated coverage of Block Jr.’s previously undisclosed criminal record [June 25; “Failure to Appear”]. Specifically, Block Sr. has taken swipes at the Green Party’s nominee, Rick Lass.
Early in the campaign, when PRC candidates were allowed to collect up to $100 from individuals as “seed money” before receiving full public funding, Block Sr. and MATI general manager and lobbyist Godfrey Enjady each contributed $100 to Block Jr.’s campaign.
“Godfrey and I work together and he’s a friend of the family,” Block Sr. tells SFR, adding that, by his interpretation, “A person in a private capacity is not covered by the statute.”
However, Block Sr.’s work has gone beyond “private.” Block Sr. personally arranged for MATI Networks, an Internet service provider, to build Block Jr.’s campaign Web site, jeromeblockforprc.com.
MATI Networks registered the site’s domain in January 2008, which essentially means that the company owns the Web site. Block Jr. never reported it on his campaign reports. Block Jr. says that’s because MATI never billed him.
“When I received your inquiry, I contacted MATI and inquired why they had not billed us,” Block Jr. writes of the bare-bones home page. “They assured me that it was an oversight and would get a bill to me, which I will then pay.”
MATI representatives did not return numerous messages left by SFR.
The company’s telephone services are regulated by the PRC and, in 2007, the current seat holder, Ben Ray Lujan, who is running for New Mexico 3rd Congressional District, initiated formal inquiries regarding MATI’s takeover of telecommunication services from Qwest Communications for the Pojoaque Pueblo. In his endorsement interview with SFR in May, Block highlighted providing Internet to rural communities as one of his top priorities; MATI is engaged in the same endeavor.
Nevertheless, Block Jr. contends that allowing MATI Networks to control his Web site is not a conflict of interest or an illegal in-kind contribution because the PRC does not directly regulate the Internet service handled by the subsidiary.
“Public campaign financing is never going to be a silver bullet to entirely cut out the conflicts of interest that people find so troubling with the way our elections are funded here in the United States,” Steve Allen, executive director of Common Cause, one of the main backers of the public campaign finance system, tells SFR.
“I think you’ve found a case that’s a perfect example of where there is a conflict of interest that still exists. Those things need to be considered and they need to be revealed to the public too.”