More scrutiny sought for SIC contracts

By Kate Nash: The Santa Fe New Mexican

A movement this session to put more eyes on contracts issued by the State Investment Council means potential contractors could face extra scrutiny before landing deals with the state.

At least one current contractor says he doesn’t mind the extra attention.

Brian Birk, managing partner at Santa Fe-based Sun Mountain Capital LLC, said he supports government transparency.

His company since 2007 has had a contract under which it vets and decides whether to recommend New Mexico venture ideas for investment.

The contract allows the company to earn $25,000 per “due diligence” review and recommendation of a company, and $100,000 a year for other services. Birk said those are low rates compared to the industry standard, but his company enjoys the local work.

The group can also earn an hourly fee of $200, up to $50,000, for related work outside scope of contract, but hasn’t invoked that part of the contract or charged the state that hourly rate to date.

As the Legislature this session continues to debate the makeup of the State Investment Council, as well as grapple with a budget shortfall, Sen. Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque, says it’s time for the entire council to be signing off on contracts, not the investment officer, as state law currently allows.

A measure (SB 18) pending before the Senate would make that change. It also would prohibit the investment officer from serving on the council.

Sun Mountain, one of dozens of contractors with the State Investment Council, has $3 billion in private equity transaction experience and has more than $500 million in private equity assets under management and advisement, according to its Web site.

Birk said his company’s work with the state’s private equity program has meant the growth of successful firms here, such as Aspen Avionics and Lumidigm.

“That program has been very successful in getting firms to open operations here, and establishing a more robust economy around entrepreneurial activity and start up companies,” he said.

Even with successful venture companies under its belt — and a few not so successful ones — the SIC continues to feel the heat this session.

The Senate on Tuesday overrode a Gov. Bill Richardson veto of a measure (SB 460) that would give the Legislature more input on the makeup of the council and aimed to put public members with more investment expertise.

In addition, the council is facing scrutiny over a contract it has with the international law firm Paul, Hastings, Janofsky and Walker LLP, which has been amended six times since 2005, boosting the original $30,000 cost to $5.8 million.

Among other things, the agreement with the firm calls for the group to create an electronic database of records subpoenaed by the FBI and Securities Exchange Commission.