Rio Rancho, NM – The New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) has been sued by the Southwest Public Policy Institute for violating the Inspection of Public Records Act. The plaintiff has sought damages, injunctive relief, and attorneys’ fees for NMDOH’s wrongful denial of a public records request.
While the request was made on July 19, 2022, efforts have been made by the Institute to avoid litigation. The records sought were related to a state sweepstakes opt-in program for COVID-19 vaccine recipients. NMDOH did not provide any “responsive materials,” citing the redaction of “protected personal identifiers” and “protected health information.” The Institute contends that NMDOH should have made the materials available while redacting the information.
“It was a simple request, yet it has gone unheeded,” said Patrick Brenner, president of SPPI. “I don’t think we could have been more clear in what we’re searching for. It’s shameful that our tax dollars are now going to be expended defending the Lujan Grisham Administration’s improper action.”
The Vax 2 the Max Sweepstakes was a statewide vaccination incentive program that offered $10 million in total prize money to encourage residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The program included vaccination site giveaways, weekly cash prize drawings, and a grand prize of $5 million. The drawings were conducted by the New Mexico Lottery Authority.
Article V, Section 7 of the New Mexico Constitution, known as the anti-donation clause, prohibits the state from making gifts or donations to individuals or corporations. The sweepstakes could be seen as a violation of this clause if the state gave a prize or award without receiving something of equal value in return.
The equal protection clause, found in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, requires that similarly situated individuals be treated equally under the law. If specific individuals or groups are given preferential treatment or are excluded from participating based on their race, gender, religion, or another protected characteristic, it could be seen as a violation of the equal protection clause.
Continued delay and failed cooperation are hallmarks of the Lujan Grisham Administration. The people have a right to know: refusal by NMDOH to comply with legal obligations constitutes an improper denial of access to public records, is an affront to transparency and openness in government, and is antithetical to the principles of our democracy.
The Southwest Public Policy Institute has requested that NMDOH immediately release all responsive public records in accordance with the Inspection of Public Records Act as part of the Institute’s ongoing investigation to determine if the sweepstakes offended either the equal protection clause or the anti-donations clause. This suit reflects the Institute’s commitment to open, transparent, and accountable government and highlights the continued anti-transparency attitude of the Lujan Grisham Administration.
The case number is D-101-CV-202300367 and was filed on February 15, 2023.