Editorial: NM has a financial disclosure law; use it - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: NM has a financial disclosure law; use it

It’s been almost a year since former House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton resigned from the Legislature amid allegations of kickbacks.

Stapleton had served 27 years as a state lawmaker while rising within the ranks of Albuquerque Public Schools to become coordinator and director of Career and Technical Education, in which capacity she allegedly steered more than $950,000 of shady APS contracts to businesses and charities she either owned or had an interest in.

Stapleton had filed a financial disclosure form with the Secretary of State’s Office stating that her only income was from her job at APS. She noted her husband managed a restaurant, but she did not report his employment as an income source, which is required for any source of gross income of more than $5,000 a year. That should have been a red flag.

And she never mentioned Robotics Management Learning Systems LLC, the company APS paid $5.3 million mostly in sole-source contracts. Stapleton took more than $200K from the Robotics bank account, and put it into her husband’s restaurant and three other entities in which she had an interest. It wasn’t until APS superintendent Scott Elder made a referral to the Attorney General’s Office that an investigation was conducted.

A year later, we learn that about 155 state employees — including four Cabinet secretaries, the game and fish director, a university chancellor, N.M.’s chief public defender and more than 100 appointees to state boards and commissions — failed to disclose their income sources, real estate holdings and business interests for themselves and their spouses.

As Kathleen Sabo of New Mexico Ethics Watch has noted, it’s important the public has a chance to spot potential conflicts of interest. It’s inexplicable that so many public officials failed to file statements by the January deadline; the statements are a condition of employment for elected officials, leaders of state agencies and certain other appointees. It’s not clear what penalty, if any, has been imposed on them.

The disclosure law authorizes fines of up to $5,000 for failing to file. It’s past time that public officials be held accountable and fined by the State Ethics Commission to enforce compliance with the disclosure law. Otherwise, the Financial Disclosure Act is just another toothless law: window dressing not worth the paper it is printed on.

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.

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