Here’s a bargain:
Freshman state Rep. Phillip Archuleta, D-Las Cruces, is renting an office for his legislative affairs for $50 a month, utilities included.
The landlord: AFSCME, the union that represents thousands of state and local government workers across New Mexico and has a small army of lobbyists registered in Santa Fe to try to influence the actions of Archuleta and other lawmakers.
The office is in the back of the AFSCME building on South Main Street in Las Cruces.
It is unusual for a legislator to rent office space dedicated to the job, because the state doesn’t pay such expenses. State law allows lawmakers to use campaign funds for expenses reasonably related to their duties, and that is how Archuleta is paying for the office.
Archuleta says office space is expensive but says he believes he is paying fair market rent for the office. He says the office is just big enough for a desk, a bookshelf, a chair for himself and a couple chairs for visitors. Archuleta says the office doesn’t have a separate outside entrance.
“I’m fortunate they are letting me have it for that price,” he says. “I don’t use gas and utilities that much.”
If Archuleta is paying less than fair market rent for the office, he could be legally required to report the rent discount as an in-kind campaign contribution from AFSCME. The law restricting lobbyist gifts to state officials also could come into play. State district attorneys and the attorney general have enforcement authority for the campaign finance and gift laws.
Archuleta says he doesn’t see any appearance of a possible conflict of interest by renting office space from an organization that lobbies legislators like him.
“My voting has always been by my conscience,” he says. “There is no secret I’m a champion of labor.”
Archuleta retired in 2012 as a labor law administrator with the state Department of Workforce Solutions, where he says he enforced minimum wage laws.
Archuleta’s most recent campaign finance report filed with the Secretary of State’s Office shows he began renting the office last spring.
Archuleta had the office decorated and paid a caterer for a grand opening, according to the report. He also had an office barbecue in August.
He says the office is open three to four days a week and the last Saturday of the month for constituent meetings. He says he opened the office after hearing complaints from voters in the 2012 election that legislators disappear after election time.
In last year’s general election, Archuleta won the House seat in a three-way race, ousting longtime Rep. Andy Nuñez of Hatch.
On Election Day, Archuleta was caught flipping his middle finger at an opponent’s campaign worker who was filming him. “I’m going to take it (the camera) off and stick it up your butt,” he told the worker.
The incident came during an Archuleta visit to a polling station at Mayfield High School.
When the video popped up on YouTube, Archuleta said he regretted his actions. “I should have been more professional. I regret it, and I apologize about it,” he said.
Nuñez lost the seat to Archuleta after changing his party affiliation from Democrat to independent in 2011 because of a falling-out with the House Democratic leadership.
Nuñez announced last summer that he had changed his party affiliation again, this time to Republican, and planned to try to get the seat back from Archuleta in next year’s elections.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Thom Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-992-6280 in Santa Fe. Go to abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.