Ethics complaint in House race won’t be heard before Nov. 3
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A Democratic candidate for the state House has filed an ethics complaint against her incumbent rival, accusing the lawmaker of failing to disclose conflicts of interest in contracts between an educational nonprofit she founded and child welfare agencies.
Karen Whitlock on Monday released copies of contracts and disclosure forms that she asserts show Republican state Rep. Rebecca Dow failed to disclose her role as a legislator as required by law.
Dow says she has been forthcoming about her roles as both a lawmaker and CEO of AppleTree Educational Center, which contracts with state agencies.
The allegations come less than two months before the November election, and State Ethics Commission won’t rule on the complaint until voting is over.
Members of New Mexico’s Legislature, who don’t earn a salary, regularly propose bills that may benefit the industries in which they work. But the state has laws against lawmakers acting in their interests instead of what’s best for their constituents.
Ethics commission officials declined to comment on the complaint, citing a gag rule. The panel also can’t hold public hearings on a complaint against a political candidate within 60 days of an election.
“Nothing can be said with the seal of legitimacy of the commission before the election, and that is there to protect the parties,” commission spokesman Sonny Haquani said.
Dow said she has no ownership interest in Appletree Education Center that provides her a profit and that the state agencies mentioned in the allegations — the Children, Youth and Families Department and the Public Education Department — “know that I’m an elected official.”
Appletree contracts with the state to provide everything from after-school activities for children to home visits for new and expecting parents in an effort to decrease drug use and increase breastfeeding.
“I’ve been completely honest and completely transparent that my passion has driven me to found nonprofits, of which I’m not on the board,” Dow said. “Part of the reason why I ran was to get more services to my community.”
Whitlock, a social worker and lobbyist, said that Dow “broke the rules” against soliciting contracts for a business in which a legislator or a family member has a substantial interest.
“Child care and education services are critical to families in this district,” Whitlock said in a statement. “Across the state, these service providers apply for a limited pool of state funding. By breaking laws in applying for these contracts, Dow has seriously jeopardized the allocation of those resources for our own district.”
Appletree Education Center contracts released by Whitlock, as well as additional contracts obtained by The Associated Press, show that Dow and partner agencies repeatedly certified the company did not have a conflict of interest.
In a 2018 contract with the Public Education Department to provide after-school services, Dow is identified as CEO and certifies that the company does not belong to a legislator or family member who “has an interest of greater than 20%.”
Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.
This story was first published on September 15, 2020. It was updated on September 16, 2020, to correct the name of the nonprofit and the commission’s ability to issue rulings before the election. The nonprofit is AppleTree Educational Center, not Appletree Education Center, and the commission can dismiss complaints within 60 days of an election, which is a form of ruling.