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Rep. Entertains Far From Home

By Thomas J. Cole
Journal Staff Writer
          State Rep. Sandra Jeff is a first-term lawmaker from Crownpoint on the Navajo Nation in northwestern New Mexico. Her district is about 130 miles from Albuquerque.
        But her most recent campaign-finance report shows some unusual entertainment expenses a long way from home:
        • $173 for a "constituent meeting" on July 8 at Azuma Sushi & Teppan in Albuquerque.
        • $194 for a "constituent meeting" on July 13 at Pelican's Restaurant in Albuquerque.
        • $225 for a "constituent meeting" on July 14 at Azuma in Albuquerque.
        • $118 for a "constituent meeting" on July 15 at a Garduño's restaurant in Albuquerque.
        The campaign-finance report doesn't include an itemization of expenses. So, there is no way to tell if the meal tabs included just food or food and drinks.
        There isn't a Navajo chapter in Albuquerque, but Jeff also reported these expenses on her campaign-finance report.
        • $185 for a "meeting with Navajo delegates" on Aug. 25 at Texas Land & Cattle Steak House in Albuquerque.
        • $151 for a "meeting with chapter officials" on Sept. 8 at Azuma in Albuquerque.
        • $226 for a "meeting with chapter officials" on Sept. 9 at a Garduño's restaurant in Albuquerque.
        Jeff, a Democrat, also reported a $97 expense for a "meeting with committee for re-election" on Sept. 4 at Pelican's in Albuquerque.
        It is unusual for a legislator to tap campaign funds for so many pricey meals. It also is uncommon for a lawmaker to report so many meals so far from home.
        Under state law, such expenses are legal if the meals are related to campaigning or to the duties of a legislator.
        Asked about her meal tabs, Jeff said she meets with Navajo officials and other constituents when they are in Albuquerque to attend conferences or training.
        She said it is more convenient to meet with groups in Albuquerque than it is to set up and attend one-on-one meetings on the sprawling and largely rural Navajo reservation.
        "We sit down and talk about ... whatever they have an issue with," Jeff said.
        Asked whether she has a residence in Albuquerque, the legislator said she has a "business home" in the city. She said her husband is a general contractor. Jeff formerly worked at the state Public Regulation Commission.
        Jeff reported the meal expenses on her campaign-finance report filed in October. The review of her report was part of an examination of the campaign finances of all 112 legislators.
        Jeff reported campaign contributions of $8,455 and expenditures of $6,558 over a five-month period. A man she identified as her husband is campaign treasurer.
        Other expenses besides the meal tabs stood out in the report.
        Jeff reported that $2,280 in campaign money was used to pay for her registration, lodging and meals at the legislative summit of the National Conference of State Legislatures in Philadelphia last July. One of the meals was a $128 lunch.
        Here's the problem:
        Jeff was reimbursed by the Legislative Council Service for the $625 registration fee to attend the conference. She also received $1,015 in per diem payments from the council service to attend.
        Jeff could have used the money from the council service to reimburse her campaign for the conference expenses, but her campaign-finance report showed no such payment.
        The lawmaker said she needed to review her campaign-finance records before commenting.
        Jeff's time in the House, although short, has been notable.
        In the recent regular and special sessions of the Legislature, she tangled with the Democratic leadership in the House over funding for construction projects and a proposed cigarette tax increase.
        Jeff didn't vote last week on a leadership-backed package to increase taxes by $200 million. She said she became ill with strep throat and needed to leave the floor.
        In December, Jeff got into a dust-up at the Capitol with Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup.
        Lundstrom said Jeff punched her three times in the arm. A lawyer for Jeff denied his client struck Lundstrom.
        UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Thom Cole can be reached in Santa Fe at (505) 992-6280 or at tcole@abqjournal.com.

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