Illustrating the need for campaign reform
The controversy surrounding Sen. Phil Griego’s campaign spending is one of three situations brought up during the current primary election season that raise ethical questions and point to the need for reform.
State Sen. Phil Griego says he’s confident that all of his campaign spending is in compliance with state law.
The law is so lax that he may be right. But his is one of three situations brought up during the current primary election season that raise ethical questions and point to the need for campaign reform.
To recap, Griego opponent Jack Sullivan has filed a formal complaint with the secretary of state over Griego’s campaign spending on NFL tickets, fixing a truck, paying off his credit card, buying furniture and playing golf.
Griego has been dodging the media, so he hadn’t responded to the allegations until Friday. In a formal response filed with the Secretary of State’s Office on that day, Griego said the campaign bought Denver Broncos tickets to auction off at a campaign fundraiser; that it held a golf tournament as a fundraiser; that it paid off his credit card to reimburse him for expenses from “constituent events held during the legislative session;” and that he owns an “antique/historic 1955 Chevy Truck that I use exclusively for campaigning.”
The truck is popular at parades and other campaign rallies, he said, and requires maintenance.
“I routinely have the account pay all related expenses as the campaign has sole use of the vehicle,” Griego said.
As for the other two interesting situations that raise ethical questions:
- Sen. John Sapien didn’t violate the state Governmental Conduct Act when he held a town-hall meeting two weeks before the primary and invited voters who, because of redistricting, won’t be his constituents unless he wins re-election this year. He sent out an invitation on legislative letterhead. Sapien told NMPolitics.net he paid for costs of mailing the invitation himself. The phone number listed has a voicemail message that directs people to e-mail Sapien at his campaign address.
- Some have said State House candidate David Coss, also the Santa Fe mayor, will have a conflict of interest if he’s elected to both jobs and representing areas with different boundaries. Others say there would be no conflict. The House seat Coss is seeking includes part of Santa Fe but also stretches outside the city limits.
Sapien and Coss
First let’s tackle the issue with Sapien, who has apologized before for using state government e-mail to promote his company’s giving. It appears he took steps to comply with the law this time, and the secretary of state may be right that he did comply.
However, there’s a line in the sand that exists between legislators’ official work and campaigning because they’re not paid, don’t have staffs, and run small organizations that generally don’t have the resources to set up separate systems. So Sapien, on his personal phone that he lists for official business, directs people to his campaign e-mail address.
Is that ethical?
And he held an official town-hall meeting a couple of weeks before one of the toughest election fights of his life.
Should he be allowed to do that, when holding such a meeting will undoubtedly benefit him politically?
These are questions lawmakers need to consider.
As for Coss: Those who say there’s no ethical issue to consider are, in my opinion, wrong. What happens when Coss the legislator has enough money to fund one more capital outlay project, and residents of a rural area outside Santa Fe but in his legislative district need money for a new water project, but residents in Santa Fe want Coss to appropriate money for a gazebo at a park? And say this all happens while Coss is up for re-election to his mayoral job?
There’s certainly an ethical problem there. It’s a dilemma that others who have held two elected jobs at the same time have already faced.
I’m not saying Coss shouldn’t be able to hold the two jobs – maybe he should, maybe he shouldn’t – but there certainly is an ethical issue that needs to be considered. I think it’s a gray area lawmakers should address.
Back to Griego
What about Griego, the big campaign spender? He chairs the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee, so big contributions from lobbyists and others fall into his lap. It’s no surprise that he has lots of campaign cash to spend and can afford a campaign vehicle and office.
Has he complied with the law? Maybe. New Mexico’s campaign laws are so lax that there’s a good chance Griego didn’t break any rules – even if his spending pushes ethical limits.
Can you pay off your credit card without distinguishing between personal and campaign expenses? Can you list lots of money going to general campaign expenses, like $2,600 for a trip to Silver City, without breaking down the costs that added up to $2,600? Can you spend another $2,600 on a matanza without explaining why it cost $2,600? Can you reimburse yourself $800 for the “2011 session” without explaining what added up to $800?
Griego did all of those things.
We’ll see what the secretary of state concludes. Regardless, I have no doubt that there are lawmakers using their campaign accounts to pay for personal expenses because they can get away with it.
Again, this is just one more area in campaign law that needs the attention of legislators.
Maybe someday the Legislature and governor will take a serious look at cleaning up this broken system. Maybe not. For too many, that would mean biting the hand that feeds them.
2 comments so far. Scroll down to submit your own comment.
Leave a response
You must be logged in to post a comment.