Editor’s note: This story has been corrected due to factual errors in the original version.
Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Secretary of Interior Debra Haaland’s congressional financial disclosure forms required repeated amendments, including up to and after her Senate confirmation hearings, and some of the amendments themselves contained errors.
The errors, which led to some written questions during her confirmation process, began with the first candidate public disclosure form she filed in October 2018 before winning the congressional seat for the Albuquerque area.
The problems continued after she was elected when she continued to file amendments to her financial disclosure forms even during her nomination process for the post in President Joe Biden’s Cabinet to oversee the Department of the Interior.
There were at least five amendments to Haaland’s financial disclosure forms and two additional filings labeled miscellaneous, although none of the reports involved large amounts of money. A recurring issue was reporting the incorrect year in which she earned certain income and referring to incorrect dates.
Amending inaccurate disclosure reports is not unusual for members of Congress. An analysis conducted by CQ Roll Call in 2011 found that three out of 10 House members filed amendments the prior year.
Haaland did not respond to questions the Journal emailed to the public information office of the Department of Interior.
Haaland made history as the nation’s first Native American interior secretary. Her nomination was greeted with cheers from Democrats and many members of Native American tribes; Republicans, many of whom viewed her as an opponent of the oil and gas industry and fossil fuels in general, were less enthusiastic.
The problems with her financial disclosures were not addressed during the two live sessions of questioning by members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in February but were the subject of written questions from committee member Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.
Barrasso asked Haaland to explain the reasons for the amendments she filed in 2019 and 2021 to earlier disclosures filed with the House of Representatives and asked if her responses were honest and complete. In response, Haaland wrote, “I made a good faith effort to complete financial disclosure filings for the United States House of Representatives. I have recently filed additional amendments to remedy inadvertent errors, which I will provide the committee.”
Barrasso, in his written questions, asked Haaland if she would be concerned about hiring someone at the Department of Interior who had problems answering questions as she had in responding to the committee’s questionnaire.
Haaland said, “I have worked in good faith to respond to the Committee’s questionnaire. As I am not yet at the Department, I cannot speak to the specifics of its hiring process.”
Although Barrasso’s written questions and Haaland’s responses were public, along with earlier disclosure reports and amendments, the committee questionnaire and responses are not. A spokesman for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee said the committee does not as a matter of policy release the questionnaires it gives to nominees, nor the nominee’s responses.
The amounts of money involved in Haaland’s disclosure reports and amendments are small in comparison with those of many others in Congress, where just over 50% of its members have a net worth of more than $1 million.
A Jan. 4 letter to the U.S. House Ethics Committee correcting when Haaland received disbursement from a retirement fund also included other information.
The attachments with the letter do not list any personal property holdings or mortgages.
Haaland lists student loan debt between $15,001 and $50,000 as her only liability. A 2019 filing in October 2020 states that the student loans are from both undergraduate and graduate education starting in 1994. Haaland graduated from the University of New Mexico and UNM Law School.
On Feb. 25, after the Senate committee hearings ended, Haaland filed an amendment “to my 2017 candidate public disclosure report,” according to her cover letter to the clerk of the House of Representatives.
The Journal found no record of a 2017 disclosure report and she wasn’t required to file any report in 2017, because she wasn’t a formal candidate at that time. It’s unclear which candidate disclosure statement she was amending.
Haaland was a candidate in the November 2018 general election, and House of Representatives rules require candidates to file a report in October of the election year. The first page of her amendment filed for the 2018 report has the wrong date; it says the amendment is for her report filed Nov. 6 but should have said Oct. 6.
That report would have required financial information from 2017 and 2018. Haaland wasn’t required to disclose her 2016 sources of income, but the amended report lists her income for that year, when she received a salary of $28,183 from San Felipe Casino.
According to the reports, from 2013 until November 2015 Haaland was an administrator at San Felipe Pueblo and in late 2015 went to work for the pueblo’s casino as a government affairs representative. The job of representing the casino ended in 2016, and she received $9,306 in state unemployment payments.
One of the persistent problems in Haaland’s financial disclosures regarded the year she received a retirement disbursement. One report said she received the $1,145 in 2017, and another said it came in 2018.
The Jan. 4 letter to the Ethics Committee says 2018 was a mistake and it should have been listed for 2016. That’s a year for which Haaland had no obligation to file a financial disclosure.
In some of the reports, the disbursement is reported as $600. There is no explanation for the discrepancy.
According to the report, Haaland went to work for Laguna Development Corp. in 2017 and earned $27,000 reviewing contracts for the pueblo’s company that oversees its casinos and construction activities. In 2018, Haaland was paid $30,000 for the same type of work for Laguna Development.
She won election in 2018 and began her first term in Congress in January 2019.
Federal land controversies
Haaland faced tough questioning from Republican senators during her live confirmation hearing on a broad range of topics, including the Biden administration’s oil and gas leasing moratorium and other controversies involving federal lands.
Her nomination was approved by the Senate 51-40, and she assumed office on March 16. Barrasso, who represents a major energy producing state, voted against her confirmation in committee but didn’t vote when she came before the full Senate.
Haaland does not have to file a financial disclosure as secretary of the Interior Department until May 15.