By Wayne Barber, Los Alamos Study Group.
The New Mexico State Auditor’s Office has questioned whether the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities (RCLC) is improperly engaged in lobbying.
Most press attention generated by an Aug. 7 report from State Auditor Wayne Johnson has focused on reimbursement of travel and entertainment expenses by the nongovernmental group’s former executive director, Andrea Romero.
The organization established to promote communities around the Energy Department’s Los Alamos National Laboratory has been funded in part by a five-year grant from DOE, totaling $500,000, which stretches into June 2020. Language in the grant’s rules explicitly prohibits lobbying, but the RCLC “appears to be engaged in prohibited lobbying activities,” according to the report.
By accepting the DOE grant, RCLC agreed none of the money, appropriated by Congress, would be used to influence a member of Congress, or other governmental officials, to vote in a certain way or take a particular policy position, the report said. In addition, RCLC has described itself as being involved in state lobbying.
A Feb. 22 letter from, Romero provides a summary of state and federal efforts, “which appear to be lobbying,” the auditor said. The list ranged from work on legislative issues before the New Mexico Legislature to discussions with DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration, as well as the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, to ensure LANL funding is protected.
Failure to comply with the DOE grant restrictions could result in the “claw back” of about $372,000, the auditor’s report said.
The Regional Coalition of LANL Communities disagreed with the state auditor. “Only a minority fraction of RCLC’s activities and expenditures relate to advocacy,” the group said in comments included in the report. The coalition said it has ample funds outside of the DOE grant to cover such costs.
The RCLC board agreed it should follow all grant lobbying restrictions. The organization has hired a third party to provide “a segregated special revenue fund” for DOE grant money. The group’s new executive director, Eric Vasquez has been instructed to make a clear distinction between work done under the DOE grant and other tasks.
Vasquez, who started this month, could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday. The RCLC board did not renew Romero’s contract at the end of February after questions were raised about reimbursement for certain travel, meals, and baseball tickets. Romero has since reimbursed disputed expenses, and won a June primary to become the Democratic Party’s nominee for New Mexico House District 46 during the November elections.