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Editorial: There’s a $440K question in NM’s CD2 election

It’s not as outrageous as the scam perpetrated on taxpayers by former Democratic state Sen. Phil Griego – who pushed for the sale of a state-owned building, pocketed a $50,000 real estate commission and is now serving time in prison. But it is nevertheless pretty egregious.

The “it” is $440,000 in rent state Rep. Yvette Herrell’s real estate company has collected from two state agencies since 2013. There’s no prohibition against that, but here’s the problem:

Herrell – who is seeking the Republican nomination for the U.S. Congressional seat in southern New Mexico – didn’t disclose that income on ethics disclosure statements during her tenure in the Legislature.

Confronted with that lapse by The Associated Press, Herrell, a Republican from Alamogordo, provided a weak response, asserting she has always diligently submitted the necessary paperwork required by the Secretary of State’s Office since becoming a lawmaker in 2011.

“While I am a partner in a company that has owned real estate in which the state leased, I have never personally been paid by or collected any monies from the state of New Mexico,” Herrell said. She also accused a political consultant of one of her opponents of orchestrating the media coverage of the nondisclosures, which she called “an attack on my moral character.”

In short, Herrell doesn’t think she did anything wrong, and that may just be the biggest problem of all, particularly since she’s pursuing one of the most important elected offices in the state.

The state Taxation and Revenue Department and the state Environment Department have been renting property from Herrell Properties since 2013. And while Herrell listed herself as the company’s owner in ethics disclosure statements, she did not disclose the substantial income her company is receiving from the state, according to The Associated Press.

For her to say she didn’t disclose that income because she has never “personally been paid by or collected any monies from the state” is disingenuous at best. It’s a little like someone trying to make the case that purchasing something online isn’t the same as shopping, because she never went into a bricks and mortar store.

As for her contention the media coverage was orchestrated by an opponent, so what? That’s the type of thing that happens when one runs for office. It doesn’t change the fact that Herrell failed to report these six-figure payments.

Besides, Joseph Cueto, campaign manager for one of Herrell’s opponents, Monty Newman, is right when he says “sweetheart deals for politicians shake the confidence of voters.”

Ethics disclosure statements are required for a reason. They put everybody on notice of potential conflicts of interest. That’s critically important when you have a citizen legislature, as we do.

After all, lawmakers are powerful people. They approve budgets for state agencies and are often called upon to make decisions on state landholdings and building projects – decisions that could have direct implications on such things as the six-figure income stream from the state that Rep. Herrell’s company has been enjoying.

Not disclosing that financial interest is a betrayal of the public trust and should not be tolerated. New Mexico’s Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and Attorney General Hector Balderas should take a look at this.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.