New Mexico governor’s social spending gets greater scrutiny
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A previously unaudited account used by New Mexico’s governors to pay for social obligations will be more tightly monitored as a Democratic governor takes office in the new year.
A law signed by termed-out Gov. Susana Martinez earlier this year increases oversight of the so-called contingency fund that has been used for decades by governors to pay for dinners, gifts for protocol meetings or spending on gestures of congratulations or condolences.
The changes are among a handful of laws that take effect Jan. 1 as Democratic Gov. Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham takes office with promises to provide greater transparency and accountability in state government.
Martinez has provided quarterly summaries of social spending by category without itemized receipts, steadfastly declining requests for more details.
Spending from the fund increased during Martinez’s final year in office to nearly $64,000 through the start of December, up from just over $58,000 the previous year, according to records obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request.
The Department of Finance and Administration said Martinez spent $23,389 on food and beverages, $6,695 on unnamed supplies, $4,928 on contracted services and $28,979 on miscellaneous items.
Martinez has defended her handling of the fund, noting that current law only requires an annual report and that she reduced appropriations from $90,000 under the previous administration.
Under Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson annual spending from the fund climbed to $139,000 — the tally for 2008 when food and drink accounted for $60,000.
During Richardson’s eight years in office, the governor’s mansion north of Santa Fe played host to events involving film stars such as Tommy Lee Jones, foreign dignitaries including former Polish President Lech Walesa as well as community groups and nonprofit organizations.
Republican state Sen. Sander Rue of Albuquerque seized on the transition to a new administration to push through the bill earlier this year. In signing the legislation, Martinez said that “the people of New Mexico deserve to know how the governor is spending taxpayer money.”
Future governors will have to submit an itemized list of expenditures each month to a legislative committee and the Department of Finance and Administration. Starting next year, the fund also will fall under state auditing procedures and the Inspection of Public Records Act.
Under the law, unspent money will automatically be returned to state coffers. The state currently supplies the contingency fund with $72,000 a year.