Last week, the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government named SFR—along with two other journalists, two lawyers and a private citizen—winner of its prestigious William S Dixon First Amendment Freedom Award.
“[T]here are plenty of people who pay lip service to openness in government,” NMFOG Executive Director Terry Schleder said in a statement. “But very few people will truly make history come alive—in court or on the page—to protect the public’s right to know what their government is doing, or has done, on their behalf.”
The honor caps off more than a year’s worth of transparency coverage here at SFR. It started last summer, when SFR received approximately 65 leaked private emails between Pat Rogers—a top GOP lawyer, lobbyist and New Mexico Republican National Committeeman—and the governor’s office. Throughout his legal career, Rogers fought for government transparency; he’s a former president and board member of FOG, and himself a winner of the Dixon award (in 2004).
But the emails revealed a different Rogers: For at least a year, he’d used his political muscle to communicate privately about key public business, such as vacation retreats involving lobbyists and high-level governor staffers, preliminary meetings to privatize the Rail Runner, and Rogers’ suggestions for high-level state appointments. When he learned that SFR planned to cover this private email network, Rogers accused us of ethics violations and issued thinly veiled threats of litigation.
SFR published the story anyway; shortly afterward, Rogers resigned from FOG—and eventually from Modrall Sperling Law Firm, where he served as vice president.
But the transparency issues continued. Near the end of the year, SFR made a public-records request for all of the leaked emails that the union-funded Independent Source PAC had handed over to the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office for investigation. The AG released them all—including some that concerned personal, not public, business.
SFR was the only media outlet to publish the leaked emails in their entirety. In each story involving public records or leaked documents, SFR makes an effort to post all related records online, in their original format, for the public to inspect.
Our transparency coverage has continued into this year, with the revelation of high-level state employees abusing their travel perks (a practice that has since ended), a top-level Obama administration lawyer’s ties to a federal probe into former Gov. Bill Richardson, and the state education secretary-designate’s lavish travel expenses, paid for by education reform special-interest groups.