State Attorney General Hector Balderas is suing a rooftop solar power company for what he says are deceptive business practices.
But to deal with the case, the attorney general’s office contracted with a Philadelphia-based law firm that also donated $ 5,000 to Balderas’ re-election campaign in 2018.
Now, the solar company at the center of the case says the contribution was illegal and the state’s arrangement with the law firm violates New Mexico’s ban on ‘pay-to-play’ government contracts .
Vivint Solar’s claim, included in a petition filed by its lawyers earlier this month, renews questions about the links between attorneys general and private law firms seeking to represent the state government. Former Attorney General Gary King gained notoriety for using politically connected law firms to pursue cases on behalf of the state. Under Balderas, the state continued to pursue all manner of consumer protection cases with private law firms that are also donors.
Critics argue that the practice obscures whether states pursue cases such as matters of urgent public interest or for the benefit of private lawyers.
A spokesperson for Balderas said the allegations in Vivint’s complaint were simply inaccurate.
“This out-of-state company and expensive lawyers are playing with the system while we protect the exploited families,” David Carl said in an email. “These allegations are inaccurate and the Attorney General’s office looks forward to the swift dismissal of this frivolous motion. “
In its petition filed in an Albuquerque district court, the company said the attorney general’s office opened a request for proposals in July 2015 for outside legal services.
Barrack, Rodos & Bacine responded in September 2015. About a year later, the firm donated $ 5,000 to the Attorney General’s re-election campaign. And in October 2017, Barrack, Rodos & Bacine signed an agreement to represent the state in the litigation against Vivint.
Vivint contends that this was illegal, pointing to a section of state law that prohibits a potential entrepreneur from making campaign contributions to a public official while the contracting process is underway.
In turn, Vivint’s lawyers argue that Barrack, Rodos & Bacine should be excluded from the case.
The attorney general’s office said it had already contracted with the law firm by the time it donated money to the Balderas campaign, stressing that the firm’s hiring process was complete. The office said the 2017 deal was only for the handling of the Vivint case.
Vivint has asked a judge to schedule a hearing on her petition.
An attorney in the Barrack, Rodos & Bacine case did not respond to messages seeking comment on this story.
The attorney general’s office publicly launched its case against Vivint in March, accusing the company of unfair marketing practices, saying door-to-door sales managers were misleading consumers about how much money they could save by installing solar panels.
The Utah-based company denies the allegations.