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Democratic challenger files ethics complaint on legislator

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The Democratic opponent of state Rep. Rebecca Dow filed an ethics complaint Monday accusing Dow of violating New Mexico’s conflict-of-interest rules and the Governmental Conduct Act.

In a nine-page complaint, Democratic House candidate Karen Whitlock said her opponent had misrepresented her position as a legislator in state contract documents awarding work to a nonprofit group she founded, AppleTree Educational Center.

“In New Mexico,” Whitlock said in a news release, “we have clear rules intended to create transparency and ensure that our legislators do not use their position for personal gain. We deserve to know why Rebecca Dow broke the rules.”

Dow, a Republican from Truth or Consequences, said the allegations are unfounded. She said she doesn’t own or have an interest in AppleTree.

“They’re grasping at straws,” Dow said in an interview.

Dow said she was an employee of the nonprofit group – which offers prekindergarten and other educational services – but left the job at the beginning of 2019. She is now a volunteer, she said.

The complaint may be the first disclosed to the public since lawmakers established a new state agency to handle allegations of wrongdoing by legislators and other public officials. The state Ethics Commission began accepting complaints this year, but it makes them public only after a finding of probable cause.

Anyone who files a complaint is permitted to make it public, and Whitlock announced hers in a news release.

Quick action on the complaint isn’t likely. The State Ethics Commission is prohibited from acting on most complaints within 60 days of an election, although it may dismiss frivolous, unsubstantiated complaints or refer allegations outside its jurisdiction to other agencies.

In the complaint, Whitlock, who lives in Mimbres, cited potential violations of state laws on financial disclosure, governmental conduct, the procurement code and ethics.

Much of the complaint focuses on Dow’s relationship with AppleTree and the group’s state contracts. It notes that AppleTree’s website lists Dow as founder and CEO.

The complaint alleges that Dow signed state documents on behalf of AppleTree asserting that she wasn’t a legislator. The signature is illegible, but Whitlock said it matches Dow’s signature on other documents.

The state Governmental Conduct Act prohibits state contracts with legislators or businesses in which a legislator has a substantial interest unless the interest is disclosed and the award meets certain procurement requirements. Whitlock’s complaint contends that at least some of the AppleTree contracts were awarded without a competitive process.

The group worked for the Public Education and Children, Youth and Families departments.

Dow said Friday that AppleTree is governed by a board, and she was simply an employee – just as many other members of New Mexico’s part-time, citizen Legislature work for employers that receive state funding.

Dow, who took office in 2017, said she consulted with the Legislative Council Service to ensure she didn’t break any rules when she worked at AppleTree. She also questioned the timing of the complaint, noting its proximity to the Nov. 3 election.

Dow, Whitlock and Libertarian William Kinney are competing in House District 38, which covers Truth or Consequences and Silver City in southwestern New Mexico.


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