Sen. Mary Jane Garcia Double Dips on Expense Reimbursements, Uses Campaign Funds Illegally to Cover Legislative Session Expenses
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State Senator Mary Jane Garcia has paid herself thousands of dollars in cash from her campaign funds for expenses for attending legislative committee meetings while receiving payments from the State of New Mexico to cover those same expenses. The Dona Ana Democrat has also paid herself thousands of dollars for attending sessions of the Legislature even though state law explicitly prohibits the use of campaign funds for that purpose.
She once claimed per diem for attending a committee meeting in Las Cruces on a day her campaign expense report has her staying at a motel in Santa Fe.
This is New Mexico Watchdog’s second audit of legislators’ expenses in which we compare their campaign expenditure reports archived with the Secretary of State against the records of their per diem and mileage requests maintained by the Legislative Council Services.
In our first of these reports we showed how Rep. Miguel P. Garcia, Democrat of Albuquerque, had been improperly spending campaign funds on massages and spinal treatments and how he was charging the state for round trip mileage to Santa Fe in his personal car when in fact he had been a passenger on the Rail Runner using tickets purchased from his campaign funds.
Sen. Garcia Gets Paid Twice for Attending Interim Committee Meetings
According to campaign expenditure reports we examined going back to late 2009, Sen. Garcia has been paying herself in cash either immediately before, the day of or after attending interim legislative committee meetings. Her campaign reports record these cash payments as “committee work expenses” and then identify the committee meetings she attended by name of the committee and the location where the committee meeting was held.
Even though Garcia has given herself campaign cash to cover the expenses of attending committee meetings, she has also taken per diem reimbursement from the state for the same expenses, effectively getting reimbursed twice.
For instance, as recently as July 9, 2012, Garcia took $800 in cash from her campaign funds. Her expenditure report states “expenses for committee work, 5 days in Chama/EDC.” “EDC” is her abbreviation for the Economic and Rural Development Committee. Her per diem reimbursement form shows she attended only three, not five days of the committee’s meetings at a $176 per diem. With a mileage reimbursement for driving 764 miles round trip from Dona Ana, just outside Las Cruces, Garcia received a total payment from the State of $952.02. Combined with the money she paid herself from her campaign funds, Garcia received a total of $1,752.02 for attending three days of meetings.
Similarly, on June 16, 2012, Sen. Garcia took $300 in cash from her campaign funds for “expenses for committee work, Tobacco Settlement, 2 days.” Her per diem form shows that on June 13 and 14 she attended two days of meetings of the Tobacco Settlement Revenue Overnight Committee in Santa Fe, and received two days per diem at $176 per day plus mileage for a total payment from the state of $658.36. Add in the cash she gave herself, and she pocketed nearly $1,000.
On June 15, 2012, Garcia paid herself $400 in cash for expenses for attending the Legislative Education Study Committee meeting that would be held in Santa Fe on June 18 and 19. She was also paid by the State $176 per day for two days and mileage for attending that same meeting. She put in for an extra travel day and received a total per diem and mileage payment of $836.58 in expenses for which she also paid herself the $400 from campaign funds. She got $1,236.58 out of that trip to Santa Fe.
On June 9, 2012, Garcia’s campaign expenditure report has this entry: “Cash-expenses for committee work…CC&J committee expenses in Santa Fe.” She took $250 in cash from her campaign fund. “CC&J” refers to the Courts, Corrections & Justice Committee on which she sits. She had already finished attending the CC&J committee meeting in Santa Fe which occurred on June 6 and 7, and for which she received an expense reimbursement for her attendance in the amount of $686.36. Make that another $1,000 to Sen. Garcia for going to Santa Fe for two days.
In December 2010 she dipped into her campaign fund for expenses also reimbursed by the State for attending an “Ethics Meeting” in Santa Fe.
A full listing of the cash withdrawals by Sen. Garcia from her tax free campaign funds for committee expenses that were also covered by her state per diem and mileage reimbursements appears at the end of this report.
We found a total of $4,280 in cash withdrawals by Sen. Garcia for “committee expenses” that were also paid by her state per diem and mileage reimbursement. But a recent communication from Sen. Garcia indicates we have underestimated her double dipping. That development is discussed later in this report.
Sen. Garcia did not double dip every time she attended an interim committee meeting. Her travel to committee meetings around New Mexico has been extensive and frequent. Sometimes, according to her records, she would return to Dona Ana from Santa Fe only to turn around and drive back. Our analysis of those records is ongoing.
Senator Garcia Paid Herself in Cash for Special Sessions in Violation of New Mexico Law
Sen. Garcia’s campaign expenditure reports also reveal that she has paid herself in cash to attend legislative special sessions.
The earliest instance that we found was on October 15, 2009, when Garcia took $600 in cash from her campaign fund with the explanation “special session.” The New Mexico Legislature met later than month in special session.
On January 15, 2010, Garcia paid herself $1,500 in cash from her campaign funds with the explanation “special session.” But there was no special session at that time. It was the regular session the Legislature entered four days later, a 30-day convocation that lasted until February 18, 2010.
On February 22, 2010, Garcia gave herself another $400 in cash from campaign funds, again for “special session.” The New Mexico Legislature sat in special session from March 1 through March 4, 2010.
On September 2 and 20, 2011, respectively, Garcia took $200 and $600 in cash from her campaign for “special session.” The Legislature convened for a special redistricting session starting September 6 that year.
Legislators currently are paid $154 per diem for each day they are in regular or legislative session. In recent years they were paid $153 and $152. New Mexico law explicitly prohibits the use of campaign funds to cover expenses during legislative sessions. NMSA Section 1-19-29.1 states: “It is unlawful for the candidate or the candidate’s agent to make an expenditure of contributions received except for the following purposes: (1) expenditures of the campaign; (2) expenditures of legislators that are reasonably performing the duties of the office held, including mail, telephone and travel expenditures to serve constituents, but excluding personal and legislative living expenses.”
Albuquerque Journal reporter Thomas Cole reported in April 2012 that Sen. Garcia withdrew $600 from her campaign account to pay for lodging and meals during a legislative session. That amount correlates with the 9/20/11 cash withdrawal for “special session.” Cole’s reporting showed Garcia used the funds to cover living expenses during a legislative session in violation of New Mexico law. Cole reported that Garcia said she was unaware of that prohibition in the law and would repay the money to her campaign account.
Garcia has represented the 36th Senatorial District in the Legislature since 1988. She is the Senate Majority Whip.
We found a $600 contribution from Sen. Garcia on April 2, 2012 to her campaign that appears to be repayment for the improper use of funds exposed by Cole. But that was the only instance before this New Mexico Watchdog investigation where she was shown to be using campaign funds to illegally pay legislative session expenses. Her campaign reports from 2009 to the present document no other instance where she has reimbursed her campaign for any improper withdrawals and uses of cash she paid to herself.
Garcia in Two Places at the Same Time
None of Garcia’s campaign reports show how she spent the cash. We found one entry for a hotel paid directly out of campaign funds. On April 27, 2011 Garcia spent $117.46 for a two night stay at Santa Fe’s Luxury Inn. That stay did not correlate with any meetings in Santa Fe of committees of which Garcia was a member.
But Garcia sought per diem and mileage for attending a committee meeting that same day at the opposite end of the state. Her itemized schedule of travel expenses, signed by her and dated April 27, 2011, says she was in Las Cruces when her campaign expense report says she was in Santa Fe.
Sen. Garcia’s Explanation
We sent a detailed e-mail to Sen. Garcia giving her the opportunity to explain the information we have laid out in this report. When we did not hear from Sen. Garcia we called her. She said she had not received the e-mail, but seemed to have anticipated our questions. She said she was already addressing “this” in a letter that was “being prepared for me by my leadership.”
Subsequently we received the e-mail that follows. It is a copy of a letter to Ken Ortiz, Chief of Staff of Secretary of State Diana Duran. Apparently someone named Bryan Steagall filed a complaint regarding Sen. Garcia’s practice of paying herself cash from her campaign account. We do not know who Mr. Steagall is and do not know what was in his complaint. [Update: We were informed by a reader that Steagall is campaign treasurer for Lee Cotter, the Republican candidate opposing Garcia in the upcoming election. We will contact Mr. Steagall to learn about his complaint to the Secretary of State]
Garcia’s letter does not answer the questions we posed in our e-mail or our brief conversation with her. But it is what she sent us and we promised her we would include it in our report:
Via Email Only
Mr. Ken Ortiz
Chief of Staff
Office of the Secretary of State
325 Don Gaspar, Suite 300
Santa Fe, NM 87501
Dear Mr. Ortiz:
This letter is in response to your letter to me dated September 20, 2012 regarding the complaint filed by Bryan Stegall. Contrary to Mr. Stegall’s allegation that my campaign reports do not contain any information regarding the cash expenditures, my reports indicate the money was spent on expenses I incurred while attending interim legislative committee meetings throughout the state.
The use of campaign funds for these expenses are allowed by Section 1-19-29.1 NMSA 1978 in that they are “reasonably related to performing the duties of the office held, including mail, telephone and travel expenses to serve constituents….” (Emphasis added.)
The campaign funds were not transferred to my “personal account and used for personal gain, or expenses” as alleged by Mr. Stegall. My normal practice is to pay cash for my travel expenses while attending interim committee hearings. Attached are cash receipts for several of the expenses I have recently incurred.
I do not believe my actions violate New Mexico’s campaign finance laws. However, in an effort to remove even a hint of impropriety, I will reimburse my campaign fund if your office deems it appropriate.
I hope this information answers any questions you have regarding the allegations made by Mr. Stegall. Please feel free to call me if you need additional information.
Mary Jane Garcia
P.O. Box 22
Dona Ana, NM 88032
Sen. Garcia’s letter included an attachment that was a PDF of photocopies of receipts for cash expenditures from campaign funds she made during her travel to and attendance at legislative committee meetings. Some of the receipts show cash spent on the trip to Chama which we discuss at the beginning of this report. Others receipts provide additional evidence of Sen. Garcia’s double dipping on travel reimbursement.
For instance, one receipt is for a cash payment to a Holiday Inn Express in Portales on July 18, 2012. She took $124.01 in cash from her campaign to pay for a hotel room that was also covered by the $657.25 per diem and mileage reimbursement the State paid her for this trip.
On July 25, 2012, another receipt shows her using campaign fund cash to pay for a room in Albuquerque. Yet she recieved $568.45 per diem and mileage for attending on that same day a meeting of the Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee just down I-25 in Los Lunas.
Yet another receipt shows Sen. Garcia using $207.33 of campaign cash to pay for three nights from August 21 to August 24, 2012 at a hotel in Santa Fe that was also covered in the per diem she received from the State of New Mexico for attending a meeting of the Legislative Education Study Committee.
Sen. Mary Jane Garcia’s Record of Double-Dipping on Legislative Expenses, 2010-Present
Following are the incidents we found where Sen. Garcia took cash from her campaign fund immediately preceding, the day of or immediately following a committee meeting for which her expenses were also paid by the state. Space does not permit us to list each committee. We do so where it seemed helpful to demonstrate the pattern.
We have listed those days where the explanation for the cash withdrawal contains the name of the same committee also appearing on Garcia’s per diem and mileage reimbursement form. A further match is that Garcia’s campaign expense report contains the same name of the city to which she was headed or had completed travel that shows up on the per diem and mileage reimbursement form.
The date column is the date of the cash withdrawal appearing in the campaign expense reports. The dollar figure in the “Campaign Expense Report” column is the amount of cash Garcia gave herself. The dollar figure in the final column is the total of per diem and mileage payments made to Garcia by the State of New Mexico for that particular meeting.
Date Campaign Expense Report Per Diem & Mileage Reimb
6/14/10 Committee expenses, Santa Fe $300 $1,132 Santa Fe 6/15-18
12/13/10 Comm. work Santa Fe $500 $904 Santa Fe 12/13-16
5/31/11 3 legis. mtgs. in Santa Fe $200 $446.76 Santa Fe 5/31, 6/01
7/16/11 Redistrict. Comm. Clovis $300 $1,017 Clovis 7/17-20
7/29/11 Mtgs. Grants, Silver City $300 $756.09 Grants, Silver 7/31-8/2
8/19/11 CCJ/LESC comm. mtgs. $200 $813.81 CCJ Grants 8/21-23
11/3/11 EDC Santa Fe $330 $768.36 EDC Santa Fe 11/2-4
11/20/11 Water Nat. Res. Santa Fe $400 $768.36 WNR Santa Fe 11/6-8
6/9/12 CC&J expenses, Santa Fe $250 $658.36 CC&J Santa Fe 6/6-7
6/15/12 LESC Santa Fe $400 $836.58 LESC Santa Fe 6/17-19
6/16/12 Tobacco Settl. Santa Fe $300 $658.36 Tobac. Santa Fe 6/13-14
7/9/12 EDC Chama $800 $952.02 EDC Chama 7/11-13
This list does not include the additional instances revealed in the receipts provided by Sen. Garcia to the Secretary of State that we discuss above.
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Tags: Campaign finance, Diana Duran, double-dipping, Ken Ortiz, legislative expenses, legislative per diem, Mary Jane Garcia, New Mexico Secretary of State, New Mexico Watchdog, Sen. Mary Jane Garcia