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.
A report by the Santa Fe Reporter delved into something that has troubled local reporters for some time: how unresponsive public information officers under Susana Martinez have been. The highly-paid positions are usually well above twice the median salary of the state. From the report: Emails, phone calls and text messages to the public information officers are often ignored. Even program managers more often than not refuse to go on the record or discuss policy plans and objectives. Many claim they’ve been instructed not to talk to the press.
State Auditor Tim Keller announced Friday an investigation by his office into allegations that the state instructed employees to commit fraud on federal food stamp applications. Keller wrote on Twitter that he “has opened a case to look into the allegations of food assistance application fraud by HSD.”
A spokeswoman for the state auditor said he opened the case after learning about the allegations that came up in federal court. The news came one day after five Human Services Department employees testified that the department instructed them to falsify emergency applications for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. HSD officials wanted employees to add fake assets to several emergency SNAP to cut down the department’s high numbers of overdue emergency applications, according to the multiple testimonies. Federal law requires those who qualify for emergency SNAP benefits to receive benefits within seven days of applying.
—Who’s going to take the Griego case? Judges are recusing themselves from the pending Phil Griego case left and right. Dan Boyd over at the Albuquerque Journal wrote earlier this week that four judges recused themselves from the case. That’s already outdated: A fifth judge also recused himself. The ball is now in the court of Judge Raymond Ortiz; a KOB reporter called Ortiz’s office and they said Ortiz isn’t sure if he’ll take the case.
A federal grand jury wanted information related to potential wrongdoing in the 3rd Judicial District Attorney’s office when current governor Susana Martinez was DA, according to a report by The Santa Fe New Mexican this weekend. The news is the latest in a series of revelations about federal investigators looking into the Martinez administration and campaign side. Martinez’s office has repeatedly said there is no wrongdoing. A spokesman for the governor told The New Mexican that the governor is not being investigated. The latest, in part, follows headlines in 2014 when the Santa Fe Reporter wrote about allegations that the Martinez used the National Criminal Information Center (NCIC) database for opposition research during her 2010 campaign for governor.
Shortly after state Taxation and Revenue Department Secretary Demesia Padilla was publicly implicated in an investigation of wrongdoing, the governor’s chief of staff received a letter. Those who sent the letter, which Susana Martinez Chief of Staff Keith Gardner received on July 14, claimed to be employees “who have witnessed the decline of this department because of the unprofessional, unethical, and overall inept leadership of Demesia Padilla.”
“Since the governor is on the record that her staff are expected to hold to the highest ethical and professional standards, we hope that you’ll look into what we share in this letter, and that you’ll do something about it before more TRD staff, out of frustration, seek out the [Attorney General], the state auditor and the press as a means to address these serious concerns,” the letter reads. NM Political Report obtained the letter through a public records request with the governor’s office. In July, State Auditor Tim Keller announced a preliminary investigation contracted by his office concluded that Padilla may have interfered with the tax audit of a former client for whom she did accounting work before becoming the TRD cabinet secretary. The client, later revealed to be Bernalillo-based Harold’s Grading & Trucking, has denied knowing about or asking for any special treatment.
A former official in Gov. Susana Martinez’ administration said he has been interviewed by the FBI on several occasions in the past two years. Related Story: Report: FBI looking into Tax and Rev audits
Brent Eastwood, who served from 2011 to 2012 as the New Mexico Economic Development Department’s division director of international trade, told NM Political Report that the FBI interviewed him about issues in state government. Eastwood said his questioning wasn’t related to Martinez’s campaign spending or her top political advisor Jay McCleskey, which the Santa Fe New Mexican reported early Saturday morning. Eastwood said he is not privy to any investigation into McCleskey or campaign spending. “I can confirm to you that I’ve been questioned by the FBI on governance issues with the administration,” said Eastwood, who now heads GovBrain, a Washington D.C.-based firm that analyzes political events and how they affect the stock market.
New Mexicans may not be able to use their state-issued driver’s licenses to board airplanes by next year, according to a letter from the federal Department of Homeland Security. The federal agency recently rejected a waiver the state applied for to comply with the federal REAL ID Act. Congress passed the law 10 years ago in an attempt to shore state driver’s licenses into a national I.D. program follow the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001. The Associated Press first reported on the DHS letter, which was addressed to New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department Secretary Demesia Padilla. “New Mexico has not provided adequate justification for continued noncompliance with the REAL ID standards that would warrant granting your request for another extension,” the letter reads.
The last few months have been filled with scandals in New Mexico, and this hasn’t escaped the notice of the nation’s most prominent newspaper. This week, The New York Times examined the unfolding scandals, which have been covered extensively by New Mexico Political Report, and their impact on the larger political narrative in the state. Albuquerque Public Schools
One of the most talked about scandals came in Albuquerque Public Schools after new Superintendent Dr. Luis Valentino accidentally sent a text message outlining that he wished to “go after” his chief financial officer to the CFO instead of its intended recipient, Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera. That incident brought renewed scrutiny on Valentino’s leadership, including his hiring of Deputy Superintendent Jason Martinez. It turns out that Martinez did not complete a background check required of all school personnel.
Less than a week after a lawsuit was filed by an open government group and local journalist, the Susana Martinez administration decided after five years to open up the names of medical marijuana providers. The Albuquerque Journal first reported the news of the change of the policy that dated back to the Bill Richardson administration and has continued during past Martinez’s first term. Last week, the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government and local independent journalist Peter St. Cyr announced an Inspection of Public Records Act lawsuit. The lawsuit argued that keeping the names of the medical marijuana providers secret by Department of Health regulation.