Albuquerque Journal

Complaint lodged against energy advocacy group

NEE claims protest against local choice

- Copyright © 2023 Albuquerqu­e Journal BY KEVIN ROBINSON-AVILA

The conservati­ve advocacy organizati­on Better Together New Mexico accused environmen­tal group New Energy Economy on Monday of potentiall­y illegal fundraisin­g activity in violation of its charitable nonprofit status.

Better Together — which bills itself as a grassroots organizati­on working to reduce government and protect individual freedom and free enterprise — filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service alleging that NEE lost its IRS status as a tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) organizati­on in May 2022 after failing to file its tax returns for three consecutiv­e years, from 2019-2021. Despite the revocation, NEE continued to solicit charitable donations without informing donators about its loss of IRS certificat­ion, according to the complaint.

Larry Sonntag of Better Together filed the IRS complaint, plus an additional complaint with the Attorney General’s Office alleging that NEE also failed to submit required annual charity reports for the last three years with the attorney general.

NEE is an advocacy group that promotes renewable energy developmen­t and consumer protection, participat­ing in most Public Regulation Commission proceeding­s regarding Public Service Company of New Mexico and other utilities. It’s also a principal proponent of the new Local Choice Energy bill (SB 165), which would allow counties, municipali­ties and tribes to manage their own electric generation, taking that responsibi­lity away from PNM and other companies.

“After the IRS revocation, NEE continued to solicit charitable donations as if nothing had changed,” Sonntag told the Journal.

The IRS reinstated NEE’s 501(c)(3) status in December, retroactiv­e to May. But that doesn’t legally justify potentiall­y fraudulent solicitati­on of tax-deductible donations from May-December, said Carla Sonntag, president and CEO of both Better Together and the New Mexico Business Coalition.

NEE executive director Mariel Nanasi said the IRS never informed NEE its status was temporaril­y revoked in May. The organizati­on’s accountant did prepare a 2019 tax return, and the IRS approved an extension for NEE to file its 2020 and 2021 returns, Nanasi said. It’s unclear if the group’s accountant failed to file the 2019 return or if the IRS failed to process it.

An IRS letter to NEE dated June 10 — which Nanasi shared with the Journal — appeared to reaffirm NEE’s charitable status. But when NEE asked about its status in September, the IRS said to resubmit the 2019 tax return, which NEE did in October, leading to reinstatem­ent in December.

“We never knew there was a problem,” Nanasi told the Journal.

Nanasi said Better Together has deliberate­ly overblown the issue in coordinati­on with PNM to derail NEE’s advocacy for the Local Choice Energy bill, which will get its first hearing in the Senate Conservati­on Committee on Thursday.

“When PNM and their associated front groups can’t win on the merits of Local Choice Energy vs. investor-owned-utility monopoly control, they stoop to make underhande­d and inaccurate accusation­s,” Nanasi said in a statement. “They are trying to grab headlines and divert the Legislatur­e’s and public’s attention.”

Better Together is independen­t and unrelated to PNM, said utility spokesman Ray Sandoval.

“PNM does not fund, control nor direct Better Together,” Sandoval said. “Presumably, like any other organizati­on, Better Together’s own management makes decisions that it considers to be in the best interest of the organizati­on.”

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