AG response to ProgressNowNM Complaint: Governor owes taxpayers refund for political use of state helicopter

Print More

In response to a complaint by ProgressNowNM, New Mexico’s Attorney General says that the use of a state police helicopter to catch a flight to a political fundraiser provided Governor Martinez with a “personal or political benefit…that would not have been available to the average citizen or public official” and that it would be “highly appropriate” for the Governor to reimburse taxpayers for the extraordinary expense.

Read the full letter from AG King’s Office here.

In November 2011, Governor Martinez diverted a state police helicopter from its official law enforcement duties to ferry her from Santa Fe to Albuquerque so that she could catch a commercial air flight for an out-of-state political fundraiser in Houston, Texas.

GOV. MARTINEZ: Send us a refund.To: Jay McCleskey & Governor MartinezState police helicopters should be used for law enforcement, not as your personal air taxi to attend political fundraisers.In the campaign, you promised not to use state aircraft as a personal air taxi. Now you say you did just that.Shame on you and your political team for this abuse of power. I demand an apology and a refund to taxpayers for the cost of the trip.b4cbe-sign_petition_buttonRead the full letter from AG King’s Office here.

After the story appeared in the news, Martinez’s office and campaign said the use of the helicopter, which cost approximately $800, was appropriate because the governor’s official meetings in Santa Fe ran late, prompting her to need a faster way to get to Albuquerque, or else she would have missed a flight to a political fundraiser. New Mexico’s Governmental Conduct Act prohibits elected officials from using official resources for political purposes.

In response to the stories, ProgressNowNM launched a public petition (2,300+ signatures to date) for Governor Martinez to refund the cost of the trip and filed an official inquiry with the Attorney General regarding this matter.

Albuquerque Journal Editorialized Against Martinez
Even the Albuquerque Journal agreed with us (that almost never happens!), editorializing:

The $6.7 million chopper should be for purely state business. And that doesn’t include making up for lost time getting to the airport to catch a f light for a political event. That’s the kind of thing candidate Martinez would have robustly criticized.

So when her spokesman tries to paint the $800 chopper trip as being in the public’s interest, it really doesn’t fly…

Martinez set a high standard for herself on this score. She needs to meet it. The governor or her campaign could start by writing a check for $800.

Attorney General King Weighs In After ProgressNowNM Complaint
In a response to our inquiry, the Office of the Attorney General, Gary King, responds that the trip provided a personal or political benefit to Martinez that would not be available to the average citizen – or average New Mexico elected official.  The AG’s general counsel reports that the Governor’s Office provided a “colorable” reason for the use of the state helicopter, which places this outside of the scope of enforcement.

col·or·a·ble “ˈkələrəbəl/”: False; counterfeit; something that is false but has the appearance of truth. See also: ostensible, plausible, specious

Colorable: That which is In appearance only, and not in reality, what it purports to be.

Law Dictionary:

Yea. They aren’t buying it either – but they give her the benefit of the doubt.

It’s time Governor Martinez cut taxpayers a check.  Send a message to Martinez and her campaign manager, Jay McCleskey, here by signing this petition.

Read the full letter from AG King’s Office here.

Update: Tuesday Feb. 11, 2014.
Governor Martinez responded to this news to the Albuquerque Journal.  In today’s story, Martinez is quoted as saying:

“State Police have to transport me everywhere I go.  So even when I go from Santa Fe to Albuquerque, they have to transport me there… by whichever means is necessary.”