Republican land commissioner candidate Bob Cornelius “has taken a strong position on openness
and transparency in government,” according to the Albuquerque Journal's endorsement
. If only the same were true of his campaign.
Over the phone, Cornelius is charming, intelligent and progressive. His attractively-designed website
touts his credentials as a political science major at Eastern New Mexico University and a partner in an alternative energy company that “will create hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in annual revenue for the city of Clovis.”
Problem is, Cornelius never graduated
from ENMU. The biogas “company” has yet to nail down a single investor,
and the mayor of Clovis—whom Cornelius says he's met with about the project—doesn't recall hearing about it.
Both of Cornelius' two campaign finance reports were filed late, and his only real source of revenue is a $100,000 bank loan to himself—which he then re-loaned to the campaign. What gives?
With less than two weeks
left before the June 2 statewide primary, things are getting hot and heavy in the campaign world. Last-ditch promises are flying faster than endorsements (look for SFR's—endorsements, not promises—next week) as candidates race to the finish. But the concerns about Cornelius' honesty in campaigning are too serious to be dismissed as purely political—and the deeper SFR dug, the more of them emerged.
Problem #1: ENMU
Both Cornelius' website
and Facebook page
are careful to avoid actually claiming he has a degree, but the New Mexican recently referred
to Cornelius' “B.A. in political science and mass communications,” and political reporter Peter St. Cyr has called him
“a graduate of Eastern New Mexico”—and Cornelius hasn't exactly corrected them. But Margaret Estrada in the registrar's office tells SFR that while Cornelius did attend ENMU from May 2000 to May 2004, he never actually graduated with a degree.
Cornelius did not respond to an e-mail and a phone message SFR left asking whether he had graduated.
Problem #2: Petro Verde
From Cornelius' website:
a) Nobody's heard of Petro Verde
“He is a partner in a company that works with the energy industry to help navigate the burdensome regulations our state has placed on the backs of our small businesses. Their current project is the Petro Verde project in Clovis, where a biogas plant will be built that will create hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in annual revenue for the city of Clovis.”
“We've met with the mayor of Clovis,” Cornelius tells SFR.
“I do not remember meeting with [Cornelius] specifically,”
Clovis Mayor Gayla Brumfield says, “and I typically have a good memory.”
Brumfield says it's possible she met only briefly with Cornelius or other Petro Verde reps and forgot, “but as far as really working with them, I haven't been involved. To pinpoint and say, ‘Yes, I remember talking with them, and they were going to do whatever—no, I don't remember that at all.'”
b) Is Petro Verde even a company?
According to Cornelius, Petro Verde LLC (see the PRC's record on it here
) doesn't have any permits, any money—or any investors.
“At this point we're just building support,” Cornelius says. “Steve* has met with different investors, and I have a meeting in a couple weeks with some investors, but no money has exchanged. I mean, there's no—we're not—you know what I mean?”
Cornelius says the group—in which his role as unpaid “partner” is “setting up the meetings and stuff like that”—thought they had some investors, but “then the economy took a dive.”
*c) Who's Steve?
According to Cornelius, Stephen E. Stockman is the president of Petro Verde and a former Texas congressman. Like Cornelius, he's reputed to be
a Baptist and a member of the National Rifle Association. Here's an ironic wrinkle, though: In 1993, an assistant to Stockman's congressional campaign opponent filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that Stockman had violated the Federal Election Campaign Act.
According to court documents, the FEC's 16-month investigation “found reason to believe
that Stockman violated the Campaign Act.” (Stockman attempted to stop the investigation and later filed a series of lawsuits against the FEC; the courts generally sided with the Commission.) SFR was unable to reach Stockman.
d) Then there's Joey...
Petro Verde's veep is one Joey Aragon. SFR couldn't reach him, either—but what's strange about Aragon is that Cornelius says he's never met him. One might hope he's not this Joey Aragon.
Problem #3: Campaign Finance
Cornelius filed both of his campaign finance reports on May 11
—even though the first was due April 12
and the second on May 10
—and reporters weren't the only ones who noticed. Nelson Spear, an attorney and petroleum investor who says he's been friends with Cornelius for the past five years, says he'd started noticing that things Cornelius was posting on Facebook “seemed to be really inconsistent with the truth.”
This particular one was on Twitter
, not Facebook, but nonetheless, on April 14, Cornelius wrote, “We have a $101,250 to $3,758.18 Cash-on-Hand advantage
over our primary opponent w/ 48 days to go! Thank you for your support!”
Spear says, “That sounds weird, because knowing Bob as I do, he doesn't have $100,000.”
Spear says he confronted Cornelius about several inconsistencies, such as why he could rattle off that number and yet fail to file a campaign finance report on time.
“He really didn't have a good explanation,” Spear says. (Cornelius tells SFR his treasurer, who is his sister, “had some trouble with it.”)
“It's not like he didn't know about it,” Spear adds. “I let him know about within less than 48 hours of it[s] being due, and [Cornelius] acknowledged [it].”
Spear also takes issue with Cornelius' referring to a re-loaned loan as “cash on-hand,” but Cornelius tells SFR they're basically the same thing.
SFR asked Spear if he thought such behavior was in character.
“I'm not sure how to answer that,” Spear says. “When I suggested he didn't have a real good reputation for honesty, when I confronted him about it, he did not react; he did not deny; he did not say, ‘well yeah you're right.'”
Cornelius, however, maintains he's “been completely honest with the process all along.”
Well, that's it for now. We'll update as we know more.
Update 1:40pm on May 20: SFR has opted to remove the link to Joey Aragon's court records because, despite some evidence, we are unable to confirm that the same Joey Aragon is involved in Petro Verde.