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New Mexico governor used fund to buy groceries, dry cleaning

February 20, 2021 GMT

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says she regrets discretionary spending of taxpayer money that included $6,500 on groceries and alcohol.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, over a six-month period in 2020 spent almost $13,500 from a taxpayer-funded expense account is appropriated by the state Legislature for the governor to spend on functions, events or items that promote the state, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

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Former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez spent about $470,000 in discretionary funds from 2011 through 2017, or an average of about $68,000 per year.

Lujan Grisham’s spokesperson, Tripp Stelnicki, said Thursday that some of the more than $6,500 grocery bill was used to feed the governor’s cabinet and staff at long meetings during the second half of last year.

Lujan Grisham said Friday during a virtual news conference with reporters that she knew the purchases didn’t look good, the New Mexican reported.

“When people are struggling, should it be fair that residents (of the governor’s mansion) literally have a locked-up grocery store closet … that has libations and catering stuff and food?” the governor said.

“I don’t want New Mexicans to feel like I don’t take seriously their hardship,” she said.

Republican House Minority Leader Jim Townsend said the governor’s purchases were “unfortunate” and inappropriate.

“It’s not what tax dollars ought to be spent for,” Townsend said. “In the time when people are hurting all over the state, using their tax dollars to buy Wagyu beef has got to be a little bit disenchanting to many people. I think it’s just more of indication of the problem that we have had and the governor has had connecting with people.”

One of the receipts showed that the governor’s office spent more than $200 during one trip to Sam’s Club on at least five bottles of tequila, two bottles of vodka, two bottles of merlot, a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of gin, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

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Stelnicki said the liquor was bought by a staffer for a holiday party that never ended up happening. He added that the alcohol remains unopened.

State lawmakers approved a bill in 2019 that changed the way the money is distributed and overseen after Martinez used discretionary funds to throw a raucous holiday party at the Eldorado Hotel & Spa.

The party caused a number of police complaints about noise and partygoers who threw objects atop a hotel balcony.

Martinez signed the bill, which provides more transparency regarding how the discretionary funds are spent, but the law did not go into effect until Lujan Grisham’s term started in 2019.