Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham can’t seem to shake the months-old controversy stemming from the taxpayer-funded purchase of alcohol, Wagyu beef, tuna steaks and other items through a state government expense account.
The GOP is making sure of it. On Thursday, Republican leaders of the New Mexico Senate sent State Auditor Brian Colón a letter requesting an update on an examination by his office into what they described in a news release issued afterward as “alleged misuses of taxpayer dollars by the governor and her staff.”
“As legislators, we are responsible for appropriating taxpayer dollars and New Mexicans expect them to be spent responsibly and for their intended purpose,” Sen. Greg Baca, R-Belen, who serves as Senate minority leader, said in a statement. “The governor’s use of these funds for personal, lavish purchases was obviously inappropriate and after more than a month, we are anxious to see the auditor’s findings.”
Senate Minority Whip Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, chimed in via a statement, too.
“No elected official is above the law and the auditor has an obligation to protect public funds,” Brandt was quoted as saying. “State law clearly defines allowable expenditures from this contingency fund. Expensive alcohol and steaks for the governor’s personal entertainment certainly do not qualify and the auditor must hold the governor accountable for her actions.”
Stephanie Telles, director of the auditor’s Government Accountability Office, said the examination is “open and ongoing.”
“The matter is still under review,” she said. “Outside of that I can’t comment any further because it is open and ongoing. Any additional comment is inappropriate on an open examination.”
Telles said she was hesitant to give a timeline on when the examination might be finished.
“Every examination that comes into our office is very different,” she said. “We give it the time that it takes to give it the thorough review that it deserves.”
Last month, as the 60-day legislative session was winding down, Senate Republicans asked Colón to investigate how the Democratic governor was using her contingency fund. The request came amid revelations the fund had been used to pay for dry cleaning and about $6,500 in groceries — including several purchases of bottles of tequila, vodka, gin, wine and beer. At the time, one of the governor’s spokespeople said the goods were not for her but for members of her staff, including her security detail, as well as for visitors at the governor’s mansion.
Colón, a Democrat, has said he already had opened an examination of the matter prior to receiving the request from Republicans “based on another complaint about it from a member of the public filed with our office.”
Nora Meyers Sackett, the governor’s press secretary, reiterated in an email Thursday the administration’s contention there was no misuse of taxpayer money.
“As our office has said, while we acknowledge that some of the staff purchases through the fund were more than what was necessary, none made were outside of the bounds of what the fund may be used for,” she wrote. “There is nothing more to this beyond the empty partisan mud-slinging.”