State Sen. Leader in Hot Water After ProgressNowNM Raises Questions About Campaign Spending

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17 May 2012

 

NM State Sen. William Sharer’s campaign account usage questioned

 

 

 

SSHAR.jpegBy Kurt Madar kmadar@daily-times.com, Farmington Daily-Times

 

 

 

 

FARMINGTON — Republican state Sen. William Sharer of Farmington appears to have violated state campaign finance laws by paying for housing out of his campaign finance account.
According to an expenditures and contributions report Sharer filed with the Secretary of State’s office, Sharer paid approximately $4,300 in 2011 and 2012 to property rental company Maez & Co. to rent a condo in Santa Fe during legislative sessions.
“He definitely rented during the legislative session,” said Pam Maez, owner of Maez & Co. “According to the lease file, he rented from Jan. 15 to Feb. 16.”
Under New Mexico’s campaign finance statutes, legislators “may use campaign funds for expenditures that are reasonably related to performing the duties of office, except personal and legislative session living expenses.”
Those expenses are expected to be paid for out of a daily per diem legislators receive while the Legislature is in session.
Sharer denied using campaign finance funds to pay for housing even though the money came out of his campaign finance account.
“Here’s the deal,” Sharer said on Wednesday. “For years I struggled with how to pay for housing during sessions. We get per diem and I put it in my campaign account. My money in, my money out.”
According to Sharer, he never spent campaign donations and put more money into the account from his per diem than he took out to pay for housing.
The statute does not make distinctions as to the source of the funds; it merely states that legislators are not allowed to use campaign finance accounts to pay for living expenses during a legislative session.
It is unlikely, however, that Sharer will see any disciplinary action.
According to the New Mexico Attorney General’s office, for an investigation into possible malfeasance to occur, a formal complaint would have to be filed, which hasn’t happened.
Even then, it is still up to the Attorney General’s office whether the complaint warrants a criminal investigation.
“It would go through a triage process,” said Phil Sisneros, director of communication for the Attorney General’s office. “After officially receiving a complaint, it then would go up the chain to ultimately the chief deputy, who would decide whether or not to assign it for looking into.”
This first phase would be a review instead of a full-fledged investigation.
“After that, a line attorney would report that yes, they thought there was more, or no, they didn’t think there was actually a crime,” Sisneros said. “It’s a pretty thorough system.”
Sharer isn’t worried because it was an honest mistake, he said.
“There is no ethical issue there,” Sharer said. “I know now that’s not the right way to do it, but didn’t know before.”
Pat Davis, executive director of ProgressNow New Mexico, a nonprofit political watchdog group, questions Sharer’s explanation.
“Ignorance isn’t an excuse,” Davis said. “As a seasoned legislator who is a leader in the Senate, he has clearly been through enough election cycles to not get tripped up by something so simple as what you can do with campaign funds.”
Each year legislators are presented with a resource that clearly dictates the state’s ethics requirements.
“I can tell you that the New Mexico Ethics Guide makes it very clear what candidates and elected officials can and cannot do with campaign finance funds,” Davis said. “There are plenty of opportunities for him to be on notice. I want him to set the best example possible, and why he changed his policy in the last couple years I don’t know.”

 

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