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APNewsBreak: New Mexico governor details social expenses

March 20, 2019
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New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham highlights accomplishments by lawmakers at the close of a 60-day legislative session on Saturday, March 16, 2019, at her offices in Santa Fe, N.M. The Democrat-led New Mexico Legislature approved a $7 billion spending plan that raises spending on low-income students, teacher pay and infrastructure. Major policy reforms ran the gamut from new subsidies for renewable energy to background checks on gun sales and a minimum wage increase. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s Democratic governor has tapped a spending account during her first two months in office for official social and diplomatic obligations for everything from a $3,600 brunch to dry cleaning, Perrier and prosciutto.

Records of the expenditures obtained by The Associated Press from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office include the brunch for relatives, friends and new staff on the day after her inauguration at the governor’s mansion.

The records are an early indication that Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, is making good on promises to be open and candid about her administration — including spending from the so-called contingency fund. Such accounts are a common feature in state governments.

Lobster tails, tin decorations, a bottle of fume blanc and a small chocolate cake on Valentine’s Day are among expenses totaling $10,329 for the first two months of 2019.

“The governor has committed to running an open shop,” Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Sackett said in a statement Monday. “Releasing detailed expenditure reports goes toward that goal.”

The governor’s $72,000 annual social expense account represents a tiny percentage of the state’s next $7 billion annual general fund budget that is funded by taxpayers and industry.

New disclosure rules for the account went into effect Jan. 1. They require that the governor’s office submit a list of itemized expenditures to a legislative committee and the Department of Finance and Administration.

Gabriel Sanchez, a political science professor at the University of New Mexico, said Lujan Grisham deserves recognition for making new financial disclosures without hesitation.

“On the one hand, you could say she has no choice,” he said. “But I could envision a governor saying, ‘Wait a minute, how come the previous governor didn’t have to do that?’”

Lujan Grisham’s Republican predecessor steadfastly declined to provide individual receipts of spending on social functions and gestures of congratulations and condolences that are standard fare for the social account.

Instead, former Gov. Susana Martinez released quarterly summaries by broad categories of spending in response to requests for details. Martinez signed the new disclosure provisions into law last year, proclaiming that “the people of New Mexico deserve to know how the governor is spending taxpayer money.”

New receipts for the contingency fund include a meal for Lujan Grisham’s family and friends on Jan. 2 that was catered by Hotel Santa Fe at $30 a plate for 100 guests, plus $600 in service charges.

Sackett said the brunch was a semi-official gathering of new staff, inaugural staff, new appointees and some family and friends. She called it a “move-in, this is the people’s house” type event on the first day of official business.

The governor’s office declined to provide a list of attendees or to name a few.

Much of the new entertainment and purchasing is overseen by Mary Brophy, the director of the governor’s mansion who worked there previously under former Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson from 2005-2010.

During Richardson’s eight-year tenure, the governor’s mansion north of Santa Fe played host to events involving film stars such as George Clooney and director Ron Howard; foreign dignitaries including Mexican President Vicente Fox Quesada and former Polish President Lech Walesa; and community organizations including the Girl Scouts and advocacy groups against domestic violence.

Reached by phone, Brophy declined to discuss her new tenure at the mansion because she said was not authorized to do so.

In a 2015 letter, she defended Richardson’s frequent use of the governor’s mansion to showcase New Mexico and criticized Martinez’s “nonexistent entertainment.”

This year, the governor held two receptions in early February during the state’s annual legislative session for a combined cost of $2,844. The gatherings were for legislators and political constituents on days when the Legislature honors Native Americans and African Americans, Sackett said.

Other expenses included a $278 monthly cellphone statement for Brophy and $99 in dry cleaning services for the governor.

A Jan. 5 receipt for Spanish colonial tin works included soap dishes and dozens of unnamed items for furnishing and decor — a $699 purchase.

Among several grocery and party-supply items, an $80 receipt from Sprouts market included provisions for a meal at the governor’s residence: four wild lobster tails, tenderloin filet, artichokes, strawberry crepes and more.

Other times, it was pizza, chicken wings or biscochitos — traditional New Mexico cookies.

Many purchases included 10-cent charges for paper or plastic bags — a fee imposed in Santa Fe to encourage shoppers to use recyclable bags.

“The bag fees are a result of the governor and her staff not always remembering to bring bags, which they aim to do but, alas, we are all human,” Sacket said in the statement.