Shortly after taking office in 2017, state Rep. Rebecca Dow joined other House members in a 66-0 vote in support of a constitutional amendment to create a State Ethics Commission.
When the Independent Ethics Commission Amendment was sent to voters in the general election of 2018, it was no surprise 75% of voters approved its creation — given how some political insiders in New Mexico had lined their pockets at the expense of taxpayers for decades.
The creation of a State Ethics Commission was a major step forward in good government. At the time, New Mexico was one of only seven states without one. To give it credibility, the seven-member commission is comprised of one commissioner each appointed by the governor, the president pro tempore of the Senate, the minority floor leader of the Senate, the speaker of the House and the minority floor leader of the House. The final two commissioners are appointed by the four legislatively appointed commissioners.
To further ensure its independence, no political party can hold more than three seats on the commission, and any action by the panel must be supported by at least two Democratic and two Republican members.
Back to Dow, the three-term Truth or Consequences Republican who is running for governor.
Documents that became public earlier this month show Dow fought subpoenas as part of an ethics commission probe into whether she properly disclosed over $5,000 in gross income in 2019 from a nonprofit group she founded, AppleTree Educational Center.
The documents show Dow refused to sit for a court-ordered deposition for almost two months, resulting in sanctions of $50 a day imposed by a District Court judge. Dow finally appeared for a deposition in late October. She’s lucky the contempt of court penalty was just $50 a day. The penalty could have been sitting in jail after a judge said she violated a court order.
The ethics commission’s general counsel, Walker Boyd, offered to settle the case in January 2021 if Dow would pay a $250 civil fine and acknowledge her responsibilities under state law. But Dow didn’t respond to the settlement offer and eventually paid about $4,115 “in compensatory and coercive sanctions.”
All of this was sealed from public until the ethics commission’s general counsel found probable cause earlier this month to support allegations Dow had violated state laws.
Dow says she voluntarily amended financial disclosure documents to address concerns raised by the ethics commission, but Boyd says the documents didn’t entirely address potential violations. Nonetheless, Dow argues she “overdisclosed” the details of her work and compensation from AppleTree, of which she formerly served as CEO. She says she consulted with attorneys with the Legislative Council Service and was told she did not need to list AppleTree. She contends the complaint is politically motivated.
Yes, the allegations against Dow are part of a complaint filed in September 2020 by Dow’s Democratic opponent that year. Some of the allegations have been dismissed. Other allegations stand — that Dow violated the Financial Disclosure Act by failing to report income from AppleTree, which receives much of its revenue from state grants and contracts, and that she represented clients before state agencies in violation of the Governmental Conduct Act.
Dow’s case is the first one to be made public by the ethics commission after a finding of probable cause. Retired U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan C. Torgerson is serving as the hearing officer to consider the allegations.
Dow is entitled to her day in court, as is anyone else. However, her recalcitrance — even after a judge’s order — has been disappointing, particularly for someone in a leadership post as the House Republican caucus chair.
Dow was once among those who supported an ethics commission to hold public officials accountable. But now that the commission has turned its focus on her, it’s disappointing she’s doing everything she can to impeach its credibility.
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.