Sen. Mary Jane Garcia Under Review by Secretary of State for Cash Payments to Herself
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The New Mexico Secretary of State is examining the legality of Sen. Mary Jane Garcia’s long running practice of paying herself thousands of dollars of cash from her campaign account. A report by New Mexico Watchdog revealed that going back to at least the Fall of 2009, Sen. Garcia has been withdrawing sums in cash up to $1,500 from her campaign account. Her expense reports state the purpose was “committee work expenses” of “special session.” But Garcia was also receiving compensation from the State of New Mexico for those same expenses.
Ken Ortiz, the Chief of Staff for Secretary of State Diana Duran, said the office has reviewed the New Mexico Watchdog report and is also reviewing a complaint filed by Bryan Steagall, the campaign treasurer for Republican Lee Cotter who is opposing Garcia for the District 36 Senate seat. You may read a copy of Steagall’s complaint here. Garcia’s response is printed in full in our first report, linked just above this paragraph.
The Secretary of State is specifically examining the propriety of Garcia’s use of cash in amounts over $100. Until the review is completed and a determination is made whether disciplinary action is warranted, Ortiz said the Secretary of State will have no further comment.
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”….
New Mexico Watchdog also uncovered evidence that Garcia has withdrawn thousands of dollars of cash from campaign funds to pay her expenses in attending legislative sessions, another clear violation of New Mexico law.
Under Section 1-19-34.6, if the Secretary of State believes that Garcia has violated the Campaign Reporting Act, she may refer the matter to a district attorney or the Attorney General. They may institute a civil action seeking a penalty of $250 for each violation, not to exceed a total of $5,000. Garcia could also face criminal prosecution. NMSA Section 1-19-36 makes knowing or willful violation of the law a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 per offense, or imprisonment up to a year, or both.
When confronted by reporter Thomas Cole of The Albuquerque Journal in April 2012 with one incident where she used campaign cash to cover legislative session offenses, Garcia pleaded ignorance of the law. Garcia has been serving in the State Senate since 1988. She is required to receive ethics training every two years, and to also sign a code of ethics.
The Legislative Council Service provides each legislator with a “New Mexico Legislative Ethics Guide” that is prepared by the Attorney General’s staff. The January 2011 edition on the opening page states that all legislators should become familiar with the Campaign Reporting Act and other other ethics legislation.
Apparently Garcia’s conduct is not sitting well with at least one of her fellow Democratic legislators. Reporter Rob Nikolewski of New Mexico Watchdog and Capitol Report related the following incident in Albuquerque on October 4:
I walked up to a Democratic state legislator and said hi. He greeted me by saying, “You’re causing a stir” on the stories re: Ray Begaye, Miguel Garcia and Mary Jane Garcia. I said that I hadn’t written the stories, that Jim Scarantino had. I then said, “Yeah, it looks like they could end up being in big trouble.” He responded by saying, “And they should. We go over those things at ethics training. The rules are clear.”