The public is one step closer to learning how the governor spends the tens of thousands of tax dollars she is provided every year for miscellaneous expenses, from entertaining dignitaries to hosting parties. But there is a catch. A bill approved Monday without opposition by the state Senate would subject the governor’s contingency fund to an audit and to New Mexico’s open records law, but not until after Gov. Susana Martinez leaves office. Unless specified, a bill usually takes effect a few weeks after it is signed by the governor. The Senate Finance Committee, however, amended the measure last week to ensure it would not take effect until Jan.
Republican state Sen. Sander Rue didn’t take kindly to a nasty tweet by one of Gov. Susana Martinez’s political committees, sent shortly after the Senate approved Rue’s bill to shine a light on how the governor spends her contingency fund. The tweet was sent Wednesday by Advance New Mexico Now, which is run by Jay McCleskey, political adviser to Republican Martinez. McCleskey’s group said Rue sponsored the transparency bill on the governor’s expenditures because Martinez vetoed a legislative pension bill. Rue, a veteran senator from Albuquerque, then sent a written statement to The New Mexican. Related: Guv’s office doesn’t keep financial records of contingency fund
“It is telling that a political action committee linked to Gov. Martinez has attacked my ongoing efforts to create more transparency about how New Mexican taxpayer dollars are spent,” Rue said.
The governor’s office contends a taxpayer-funded account used to host dignitaries and throw parties isn’t subject to open records laws to the same extent other public funds are. Sometimes the subject of controversy, the account catapulted into public view last winter when one of the parties its money was used for ended with police responding to noise complaints from a possibly intoxicated Martinez. Each year, the state Legislature grants $70,000 in taxpayer money to the governor for a contingency fund, which per state law she can use for “purposes connected with obligations of the office.”
The fund is unusual in that, unlike most state government accounts filled with public money, the state Legislature exempts it from required annual audits. But after NM Political Report filed an Inspection of Public Records Act request with the governor’s office this spring for six years worth of expense documents associated with the contingency fund, the office only provided broad summaries of the expenses. Missing were documentation like the checks, purchase orders, reimbursements and purchase requests associated with the fund that we asked for.
Gov. Susana Martinez isn’t properly managing the account she used to pay for her infamous holiday pizza party last year, according to an independent audit released this month. The finding stems from the governor’s contingency fund, which the state Legislature grants roughly $70,000 each year to for “purposes connected with obligations of the office,” according to state law. That’s been interpreted by past governors and Martinez as entertainment expenses for hosting officials and staff. Specifically, Martinez’s office is supposed to revert any unspent money remaining in her contingency account by the end of a fiscal year to the state’s general fund, according to the audit. Instead, her office kept leftover money into that account.