The end of 2015 brought explosive news that the FBI were conducting investigations on New Mexico state government and Gov. Susana Martinez’ top political operative, Jay McCleskey.
The first report, by the Santa Fe New Mexican, mentioned that federal authorities were looking into campaign spending by Martinez during her first gubernatorial campaign in 2010 and also spending from her first inaugural committee in 2011.
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The following day, NM Political Report ran a story confirming that one former Martinez official, Brent Eastwood, had spoken to the FBI about issues in New Mexico state government many times over the past two years.
Soon, the New Mexican reported that federal authorities subpoenaed the state Taxation and Revenue Department about possible retaliatory tax audits against Martinez’ political enemies.
On the Monday after the news first broke, reporters swarmed Martinez during one of her routine press conferences about job expansion to ask her about the federal investigation. In a short few minutes where Martinez spoke with reporters, she confirmed that federal officials had interviewed her and members of her staff about their investigation.
She told reporters that she speaks with McCleskey “every day.” She also argued that the investigations were based on the same allegations made by her political opponents before.
“It’s disappointing that they just keep doing it over and over,” she said. “And yes, I am confident that neither Jay nor anyone else has done anything wrong and that [if] they can’t beat him, they’re just going to smear him.”
Martinez also claimed that her interview and interviews of her staff by the FBI was simply “part of the process” of any federal investigation.
Soon, another New Mexican report explored McCleskey’s use of shadow companies to run political campaigns. In that report, Phillip Pearce confirmed that the FBI had interviewed him about Susana PAC, a political action committee run by McCleskey where he previously did accounting work. Phillip Pearce is the brother of U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce.
All the unflattering news didn’t stop the Republican Governors Association from electing Martinez as its new chairwoman later in November. At the RGA convention, a Fox News reporter asked Martinez about the FBI investigations.
“We have done everything right,” she said. “I have all the confidence in the world that there is nothing that has gone wrong in my administration.”
The most recent revelation of the investigation shows that U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez subpoenaed the Third Judicial District Attorney’s Office where Susana Martinez was District Attorney before she became governor. This followed allegations previously reported in Mother Jones and the Santa Fe Reporter that Martinez staffers in the District Attorney’s Office may have illegally looked up license plate numbers of her opponents in a federal law enforcement database during her first gubernatorial campaign.
The subpoena, approved by a grand jury in late September, sought out whether Martinez and two of her top DA staffers used the National Criminal Information Center database, among other things.
Martinez’ administration responded to the news by stating that she herself isn’t the target of any federal investigation.
Where the FBI scrutiny of Martinez’ administration and her political spending goes next isn’t publicly known. But what is known is that federal authorities appear to be casting a wide net into the administration’s alleged activities, both political and policy-wise. As we head into a new year, we at NM Political Report expect this story will continue to develop.