March 20, 2017

Ex-staffer: Gov. “not telling the truth” about her funds investigated by FBI

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“She is not telling the truth on this,” [former Susana Martinez campaign staffer Andrea] Goff said of the governor.

Under penalty of perjury, Governor Martinez penned a multi-page sworn declaration defending her campaign manager and taking personal responsibility for every expenditure by her inaugural committee once under investigation by the US Department of Justice, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported this past weekend.

That statement likely influenced FBI and US Dept. of Justice investigators reviewing the expenditures of her inaugural funds in 2015, law enforcement sources say.

Now former staffers who raised funds and assisted in the transition and inauguration say Governor Martinez was not telling the truth in that statement.

At issue appear to be more than $57,000 Martinez said she made Jay McCleskey, her former campaign manager and advisor, take for inaugural services and how the committee spent hundreds-of-thousands of the almost $1 million they raised from private entities to interview candidates for cabinet appointments and Martinez official staff.

For her first inauguration, Martinez’s team raised almost $1 million from private entities, with almost half of that money coming from corporate donations exceeding $10,000 each.  The inaugural committee, led by former Sen. Pete Domenici was supposed to raise money for the inaugural expenses – not the transition, the New Mexican reports.

Heather Wilson, a former U.S. Republican congresswoman for New Mexico who was chairwoman of the governor’s transition committee, said in an email to a donor that the transition committee was separate from the inauguration committee.

“I don’t know who is handling this for the inaugural committee,” said Wilson, who is now President Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of the Air Force, in the Dec. 30, 2010, email to Alfonso Solis of Roswell. The email continued: “(That’s separate from the transition.)”

Asked about that email and Wilson’s understanding of the two committees last week, a spokeswoman for Wilson told The New Mexican she stood by the email. “The inauguration committee was separate from the transition. There was no budget for the transition that Dr. Wilson was aware of or had influence over,” the spokeswoman said. “She was a volunteer as were all of the people whom she asked to help.”

Corporate donation concerns

Corporations who gave to the inauguration raised concerns, emails show, about the use of their funds for political purposes so they were provided a letter from Martinez’s attorney Pat Rogers (Rogers later resigned his post as the Republican National Committee chair after emails between himself and Martinez showed Rogers suggesting Martinez ignore Native American leaders to honor the legacy of Indian killer Gen. Geo. Armstrong Custer).

But Rogers’ letter and opinion seems to be based on his assertion that the committee’s organizing documents, which he wrote, contained language allowing the funds to be used for transition purposes.  They did not.

Emails reviewed by The New Mexican show potential corporate donors were concerned about whether contributions to the committee would violate the state’s Gift Act or campaign laws.

The committee provided these donors with a legal opinion written by the committee’s attorney, Rogers, assuring them that donations to an inaugural committee would be used for inaugural activities…

In fact, the committee’s incorporation papers did no such thing, and several major donors told The New Mexican they were never informed that their money would be used for anything other than Martinez’s inaugural festivities. The only place the word “transition” appears in the formation of the committee was in a proclamation signed Nov. 12, 2010, a month before the committee was formed, that stated the committee “would seek to gather private funds to support private Inaugural events.” It goes on to say the inaugural activities would provide “an opportunity for celebration and to advance the public policy in favor of the smooth transition between administrations.”

Never does it say the money would be spent on transition, and the committee’s “Articles of Association” filed with Bernalillo County one month later state only that money would be used for inaugural purposes. The word “transition” is not mentioned in the three-page document. Article II of the document stated the organization’s “Intent and Purpose” as being “to organize, plan, implement and host the 2011 inaugural activities.”

The New Mexican spoke to several donors to the committee who all say they were not aware that their funds were used for transition purposes.

Legal violations?

A prominent government ethics attorney says misleading donors could form the basis of serious federal crimes, some of which were rumored to be items of review by the FBI in 2015 when the USDOJ began investigating Martinez/McCleskey.

Richard Painter, former President George W. Bush’s chief ethics lawyer from 2005 to 2007, said serious legal problems, such as wire fraud and mail fraud, could arise if contributors to inauguration committees are not told how the money they donated will be used.

“You need to be honest with the people giving the money,” he said.

Painter said that while many states might allow private money to finance gubernatorial transitions, he believes the practice is a “terrible idea because that’s where all the big decisions are made” on who is going to staff an incoming administration…

“That shouldn’t be brought to you by Exxon,” he said.

State ethics attorneys also had serious questions about the conduct outlined in Martinez’s statement.

Douglas Carver, executive director of New Mexico Ethics Watch, reviewed Martinez’s declaration at the request of The New Mexican.

Carver, an attorney, said it may be legal for incoming gubernatorial administrations to finance transitions with private funds. But he added that lawmakers should look into clarifying the law surrounding what he calls “the window of mischief” in the two-month period between a governor’s election and swearing into office.

There should be clear language that prevents the intermingling of inauguration and transition funds because the two activities serve different purposes, Carver said.The function of an inauguration is to celebrate an incoming elected official, he said, while a transition is tied to government functions.

The notion of funds raised from private individuals and corporations underwriting government activities, such as hiring an administration’s Cabinet, is troubling, Carver said, particularly if such activity is not disclosed to the public.

“Would you want Occidental [Petroleum] paying the salary of the state land commissioner?” he asked.

Governor “seems to admit a clear violation” in her own statement

Carver also questioned another statement by Martinez in the declaration, in which she said: “Although it was not improper for the campaign to do so, I now know that my campaign ultimately paid at least $100,000 in expenses that were for the transition and inauguration and could have properly been paid or reimbursed by the committee.” (The italics are hers.)

Carver said the state’s campaign finance laws prohibit such expenses. She “seems to admit a clear violation,” Carver said.

“I don’t see how she could use legally those campaign funds to pay Jay [McCleskey] and the others,” Carver said.

 Martinez, McCleskey refused to speak

While Martinez and McCleskey did not respond for the New Mexican‘s story directly, their attorney did speak the Albuquerque Journal which ran a less critical story on the governor’s affidavit on Saturday, pre-empting the New Mexican by a day.

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