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SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s reelection campaign reimbursed the state $1,837 in December for expenses related to a Democratic Governors Association party hosted by Lujan Grisham at the governor’s residence in Santa Fe.
The cost of the event was initially paid for out of a state contingency fund intended for social and diplomatic events, according to records first reported by the Santa Fe New Mexican.
Spending from the fund by Lujan Grisham – and previous governors – has drawn scrutiny and criticism in recent years, even though an audit conducted last year by State Auditor Brian Colón’s office found pandemic spending on food, alcohol, Christmas ornaments and more did not violate state law.
A Lujan Grisham spokeswoman said Thursday the request for reimbursement for the DGA event was made “nearly immediately” after the purchase of items for the party.
The governor’s spokeswoman Maddy Hayden also said only $17,937 of the roughly $78,000 budgeted by the Legislature for the governor’s contingency fund – or about 17.3% – has been spent during the current budget year, with whatever remains unspent when the fiscal year ends June 30 set to revert to the state’s general fund.
However, the Governor’s Office did not respond to questions about why the taxpayer fund was used initially to pay for the costs of the politically tinged party, which the Republican Governors Association described Thursday as “yet another ethical scandal.”
Under state law, money in the governor’s contingency fund can be used to pay for expenses “directly connected with obligations” of the elected office of governor.
Lujan Grisham’s campaign spokeswoman Kendall Witmer said Thursday the governor’s reelection campaign took swift action to pay back the state for the event, but did not provide details about the party.
“As soon as we learned of these expenses, the campaign transparently and expeditiously reimbursed the state for costs related to an event hosted by the governor as chair of the Democratic Governors Association,” Witmer said in a statement.
State lawmakers passed a 2018 bill aimed at providing more transparency for how discretionary funds are spent after then-Gov. Susana Martinez used the fund to throw a holiday party at a Santa Fe hotel that prompted a police response. The party resulted in several complaints about noise and Martinez faced criticism after being recorded telling police dispatchers to call off responding officers.
Martinez signed the 2018 bill, but it did not take effect until Lujan Grisham’s term began in 2019.
From 2011 through 2017, Martinez, a Republican, spent an average of about $68,000 per year from the discretionary fund. Democratic ex-Gov. Bill Richardson, who held office before Martinez, reported spending nearly $139,000 from the contingency fund in 2008, including more than $60,600 on food and drinks, according to the Associated Press.
As for the DGA, Lujan Grisham was elected by other Democratic governors in December 2020 as the deep-pocketed national group’s chairwoman. She served her one-year term at the group’s helm before turning over the reins to North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper at the end of December.
Lujan Grisham is running for reelection this year to a second four-year term. She is unopposed in the Democratic primary election, and will face off against whomever wins a five-way GOP primary race and Libertarian Karen Bedonie in the November general election.