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New Mexico governor’s grocery bills prompt calls for audit

March 4, 2021 GMT

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Senate Republicans on Thursday asked for a special audit of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s use of a discretionary fund following reports that the Democrat spent thousands of dollars on liquor and groceries while holding small in-person meetings at the governor’s mansion amid the pandemic.

Fourteen GOP lawmakers signed the letter that was sent to the state auditor’s office seeking a review of the fund, which has been used for decades by governors to pay for dinners, gifts for protocol meetings or spending on gestures of congratulations or condolences.

“The law makes is clear that this fund is not for the governor’s personal entertainment,” Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, said in a statement. “Taxpayers should not foot the bill for the governor’s alcohol, Wagyu beef and dry cleaning. These clearly fall outside the allowable expenditures for this fund.”

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Lujan Grisham’s office did not have an immediate comment about the request for an audit.

The first-term governor recently acknowledged that spending on goods and services such as dry cleaning, tuna steaks and tequila over a six-month period in 2020 didn’t look good. The governor’s office said previously that some of the groceries were used to feed her cabinet and staff during long meetings last year.

Groceries were also purchased for the governor to cook and bake holiday gifts and the bottles of alcohol were meant for a party that never happened, her office has said.

The receipts also showed several charges for dry cleaning, which was for the governor’s clothes for news conferences and other remote meetings.

“We’re talking about $13,000 (in total contingency fund spending) in a budget of $7 billion,” Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki recently told The Santa Fe New Mexican. “It’s absolutely the public’s right and obligation to scrutinize the spending of public dollars, but I think that context is important.”

State lawmakers approved a bill in 2018 that changed the way the money is distributed and overseen after former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez used discretionary funds to throw a raucous holiday party at a Santa Fe hotel that involved the police.

Spending from the fund increased during Martinez’s final year in office to about $64,000, up from just over $58,000 the previous year, according to records obtained by The Associated Press.

Under former 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 his two terms, the governor’s mansion played host to events involving film stars, foreign dignitaries, community groups and nonprofit organizations.