A Santa Fe-based non-profit known for accusing the state’s largest utility of “deceptive and misleading” claims before regulators and customers has been accused of misleading its own donors about its nonprofit status in a new complaint filed with the state’s attorney general.
New Energy Economy has forcefully opposed PNM in dozens of legal filings before regulators and in courts over the years. In the cases, the organization sends out long emails to donors detailing legal strategy and asking for donations to support those legal challenges. But the nonprofit advocacy organization which frequently files suit to enforce rules and regulations on other corporations now admits that it did not follow follow federal and state tax rules itself by failing to file nonprofit tax returns for at least some years beginning in 2019. This led the IRS to revoke its nonprofit status last year placing the organization’s tax status, and the tax-deductible status of donations, in jeopardy.
The revocation was first reported by Better Together NM, an energy industry supported advocacy group frequently opposing NEE. NEE’s “[Executive Director] Mariel Nanasi continued to promise that donations were ‘100% tax-deductible’ and sent out more than 30 appeals asking for contributions,” Better Together said last week. The group also filed complaints with the New Mexico Attorney General which is responsible for overseeing nonprofit fundraising practices in the state.
For her part, Nanasi admitted last week in an email to supporters that the organization had failed to complete the required filings, but blamed the problem on others. “Our accountant had given us a copy of the filed form, which we also filed with the NM Attorney General’s Coros business registry, so we were, and still are, unclear as to what happened. It could have been an error on the part of our accountant who had suffered the loss of his mother due to covid when he was under contract with us in 2020 and preparing and filing the form,” Nanasi wrote.
The organization says it originally learned of the problem in September of last year when a donor alerted them that their nonprofit status had been revoked since May. At the time, the group was opposing a merger case before the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) between PNM and Avangrid, a global energy company. If approved, Avangrid says the merger is expected to generate more than $350 million in new investment in renewable energy for New Mexico and at least $67 million in PNM customer bill discounts over three years.
In a September 15th email to supporters, NEE claimed that PNM and Avangrid had engaged in a “deceptive and misleading… PR strategy” in support of the merger. The group also opposed PNM on a different matter involving the payments of credits by PNM. NEE claimed PNM was “tak[ing] money from ratepayers while providing absolutely nothing.” The State Supreme Court has twice rejected NEE’s argument in that case.
The emails are among a batch of solicitations Better Together cites where the organization accused others of inappropriate fiscal management and misleading practices while soliciting non-profit donations under a revoked status.
For their part, NEE says they have filed the proper paperwork with the IRS and had their nonprofit status restored retroactively, but they warn donors that the lapse may cause delays in verifying the tax deductible status of prior year donations.
In the meantime, Better Together NM says it is waiting on word from the attorney general on the status of the complaint regarding NEE’s failure to file state charity registration and disclosure forms.
The PNM and Avangrid merger was initially rejected by the Public Regulation Commission but voters have since rejected the commissioners who made that decision. In November, voters approved a new PRC structure of appointed hearing officers and the State Senate recently confirmed the appointment of the three new members. Legal questions in the merger case are still pending in the courts, but it is expected to return to the new Public Regulation Commission soon.