SANTA FE – The top Democrat in the New Mexico House called Tuesday on Gov. Susana Martinez to add ethics-related legislation to the agenda of the coming 30-day session, saying state laws need to be toughened after a scandal involving former Secretary of State Dianna Duran.
In response, a Martinez spokesman said certain ethics bills will be included in the session’s agenda, but accused House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, of playing “political games” on the issue.
Egolf had asked Martinez in his Tuesday letter to allow consideration of four separate ethics bills, all proposed by Democratic lawmakers. The shorter, 30-day legislative sessions are typically limited to budgetary matters, though governors can OK additional topics.
One of the four bills cited by Egolf – it has not been filed – would require more transparency in the management of a gubernatorial fund that historically has been used to pay for dinners and receptions.
“While it is entirely appropriate that the Legislature make available to governors funds to perform their official duties, such as receiving guests and maintaining the (governor’s) residence, it is entirely inappropriate that these public monies are free from public oversight or accountability,” Egolf wrote in his letter to Martinez.
The governor’s contingency fund drew attention after Martinez hosted a recent holiday party – with a roughly $7,900 tab – that ended with Santa Fe police responding to a rowdy party and the governor pressing police dispatchers to tell her who had filed the noise complaint.
Money from the fund – currently about $80,000 annually – is appropriated by the Legislature and is treated as personal income for governors, meaning they must report it on state and federal tax forms and offset the income with expenses to avoid tax liability. Expenditures from the fund are not currently subject to audit.
Other ethics-related bills proposed by Democratic lawmakers for the coming session include a new attempt to create an independent ethics commission and a proposal aimed at ensuring that elected officials convicted of felonies lose their pensions.
Those proposals were prompted by the Duran case, in which the former GOP secretary of state resigned from office in October and pleaded guilty to criminal charges she used campaign contributions to pay for a gambling habit.
Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan said the two-term Republican governor will ensure anti-corruption measures are debated during the 30-day session, including a bill that would increase legislators’ financial disclosure requirements, but accused Democrats of hypocrisy on the issue.
“These are the same politicians who had the majority for more than 60 years and never bothered to pass any of these measures, and in fact voted against an even stronger corruption bill that the governor strongly advocated for,” Lonergan said, referring to a 2012 public corruption bill that stalled in the state Senate, while a milder bill was passed.
The 30-day legislative session begins Jan. 19.