Say it ain’t so!
New Mexico’s Attorney General is reviewing irregularities in the campaign accounts of State Rep. Andy Nuñez after ProgressNow New Mexico filed a complaint outlining more than 40 different instances where Nuñez reported using his campaign cash to provide himself cash payments, travel to official events reimbursable by taxpayers (double-dipping) and purchases of power tools, truck parts and repairs to his personal office.
Looking at Nuñez’ campaign finance reports for the last few years, we found some pretty glaring violations of state campaign laws. The New Mexico Constitution prohibits legislators from receiving any additional compensation beyond that provided by per diem authorized to attend official meetings.
**UPDATE, Oct 6, 2016, 4:31 pm** After news of our August complaint was reported earlier today by the Las Cruces Sun-News, ProgressNow was contacted by by a citizen watchdog from the community of Hatch, New Mexico where Nunez also serves as mayor. This alert citizen was also concerned with the irregularities in Nunez’ financial reporting and had filed her own complaint with the Secretary of State’s office.
The Secretary of State’s Ethics Investigators confirmed that they had opened their own inquiry into Nuñez.
You can see the entirety of this NEW complaint below.
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Cash payments to himself
In the campaign expenditure records submitted to the Secretary of State’s office we found 8 disbursements listed at “cash” paid to Andy Nuñez between May 14, 2014 and December 15, 2015 totaling $1,605.00.
Additionally, another 11 transactions are itemized that are not labeled “cash”, but clearly appear to be petty cash payments to himself between October 14, 2011 and June 21, 2016 for $100-$400.
Because these amounts are not associated with the actual costs or receipt amounts from locations or events, it appears (again) that Nuñez simply made up amounts to pay himself.
New Mexico law specifically prohibits candidates from drawing more than $100 in cash from their campaign funds. NMSA Section 1-19-34.A.(3), the Campaign Reporting Act, states:
All disbursement [from the campaign fund account] except for disbursements made from a petty cash fund of one hundred dollars ($100) or less shall be by check made payable to the person or entity receiving the disbursement and not to “cash” or “bearer”….
Wait, haven’t we seen this before?
In 2011, before then-Secretary of State Dianna Duran resigned to plead guilty for her own campaign finance mismanagement she found that then-State Senator Mary Jane Garcia had violated state law by paying herself cash from her campaign to cover “special” meetings and personal expenses.
ABQ Journal [10/27/12] Specifically, Duran said Garcia violated the law by repeatedly making disbursements of more than $100 from campaign funds payable to “cash” rather than to an individual or an entity.
The secretary of state also cited 12 instances — ranging from January 2010 through this year — in which Garcia reported using her campaign funds to pay for travel expenses to attend legislative meetings. The lawmaker also received travel and per diem payments from the Legislature for the same meetings, Duran said.
Last month the Santa Fe New Mexican reported that former senator Phil Griego was facing charges of embezzlement and perjury stemming from an investigation into ambiguous campaign line items similar to those we found in Nuñez’ reports.
Like former Senator Garcia, several of Nuñez’s cash payments were made by Nuñez from his campaign account to attend conferences and meetings where legislators were eligible to receive per diem reimbursed by taxpayers.
Las Cruces Sun-News [Oct 6, 2016]
In an additional nine instances, totaling $2,275, the group believes Nuñez used campaign contributions to “attend conferences and meetings where legislators were eligible to receive per diem reimbursed by taxpayers,” the letter states — a practice known as “double-dipping.”
It appears that Nuñez used public campaign funds to pay for travel expenses to benefit his lobbying business in violation of the Campaign Reporting Act. Trips to the Border Legislators Conference were related to his job as a State Representative at the time. If Secretary Duran’s decision is right, these public travel expenses from campaign funds seem illegal.
But Nuñez didn’t just limit his reimbursed travel to official meetings. His finance reports show that for years, Andy Nuñez has simply invented mileage reimbursement rates to pay himself more than $5000 for thousands of miles he claims he drove (though he never itemizes where the meeting was or when, opening the question about double-dipping again).
Campaign expenses to help his lobbying business?
It gets worse.
In 2013, while Nunez was not a legislator or candidate but working as a lobbyist for a Southern New Mexico Irrigation District, Nuñez used his campaign funds to travel to Santa Fe and Albuquerque to attend legislative committee meetings.
Nunez’s client – an irrigation district – routinely has business before the Water and Natural Resources committee he cites in his spending report. News reports at the time report that Nuñez was not a candidate for office and had not yet decided if we would run for re-election to his former seat.
In total, these petty cash payments from campaign funds to Nuñez total $2,625.
In total, these 19 transactions total $4,230 in campaign contributions that Nuñez took as cash.
ProgressNow has as its mission to help New Mexicans understand the civic process and engage with public policy makers whose decisions impact our daily lives. Clean government and ethical behavior by public officials is a cornerstone of our democracy on which public trust is built, and we encourage those who engage with us to support those values in elected officials.
“Truck Tires” and tools from Sears
And while paying himself cash from his campaign and double-dipping on travel may be Nuñez’s biggest concerns, he has some other questionable expenditures campaign watchdogs are sure to pick up on as our report gets out.
You and I have to pay for auto repairs out of our own pocket, but not Andy Nuñez.
$4,683 to repair his personal pickup truck. “Battery,” “Tail lights” and “oil changes” are all included.
He also used campaign funds – lobbyist contributions and small donations from voters who think he’s representing their interests in Santa Fe – to pay for:
- A parking ticket in Albuquerque
- A new power drill from Sears
- Chile “restras” [sic] for gifts
He also made several big donations to Republican candidates and committees, including Governor Martinez herself who needed no help raising funds thanks to big corporate donors who funded her campaigns, SuperPACs and inaugural events.
Attorney General reviews Nuñez expenditures
After ProgressNowNM filed our complaint with the Attorney General, a spokesman confirmed to the Sun-News that they have opened an inquiry into Nuñez’s spending.
“I can confirm the Office of the Attorney General has received a referral, which has now been made public by ProgressNow New Mexico, and this matter is under review,” said James Hallinan, a spokesman for Attorney General Hector Balderas.
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ProgressNowNM Complaint to Attorney General
Citizen Watchdog complaint to Secretary of State