SANTA FE – The Democratic Party has filed an ethics complaint with the secretary of state against a freshman Republican legislator who is running for re-election and whose Albuquerque district is considered key to which party controls the state House of Representatives.
The complaint against Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes alleges she failed to report on 2015 and 2016 financial disclosure statements that a business partly owned by her husband, Harry Barnes, leases an Albuquerque building to the state Human Services Department for more than $91,000 annually.
Maestas Barnes in a statement on Thursday called the complaint “false and frivolous” and a “smear campaign.”
The complaint was filed Aug. 25, two weeks after Maestas Barnes filed an amended financial statement with Secretary of State Brad Winter’s office disclosing her husband’s ownership interest in the company and the HSD lease.
“This information had not been previously disclosed in my prior Financial Disclosure Statements as I was not fully aware of my husband’s interests until recently,” she said in a letter to Winter.
Maestas Barnes, a lawyer, has represented House District 15 – a swing district – since 2015, after she defeated a Democratic incumbent in the 2014 election.
She faces a challenge this November from Democrat Ane Romero, as Republicans try to retain control of the House, where they currently have a 37-32 advantage. There’s one House vacancy, with a Democrat the sole candidate on the ballot in the district.
Harry Barnes is a part owner of T&D Fortress, LLC, which Maestas Barnes said bought the building in 2011.
According to Human Services Department spokesman Kyler Nerison, the lease for the building has been in place since 2004, and the rent hasn’t changed since the lease was first signed with the original owner.
Nerison said the lease, which contained renewal options, went through a competitive bidding process in 2004.
The state Governmental Conduct Act says state agencies can’t enter into contracts with businesses in which legislators or their families have substantial interest unless the legislator discloses the interest and the contract is awarded in accordance with the Procurement Code. The Democratic Party complaint says there is no indication the Procurement Code was complied with once Maestas Barnes was elected in 2014.
The Democratic Party said Maestas Barnes’ failure to disclose the information pointed to “an intentional disregard for the law and disrespect for New Mexico taxpayers.”
House Speaker Don Tripp, R-Socorro, said in a statement that Maestas Barnes “was fully transparent and immediately filed appropriate disclosures” when she learned of her husband’s partial ownership of the business.
Maestas Barnes said in a statement, “My two primary responsibilities are caring for my two young children and serving my constituents. I had no involvement in my husband’s partial interest in this property.”