Wednesday, October 4, 2023

False complaint to Ethics Commission goes public


It’s one of those calls no elected official wants to get.

Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, was out of state when a reporter called to ask her about an ethics complaint.

“What ethics complaint?” she asked.

The state Ethics Commission received, investigated and dismissed the complaint in April and notified Lundstrom by legislative email, which Lundstrom and many other lawmakers don’t use outside of sessions. Unaware of the complaint, she didn’t respond, but the commission dismissed the complaint on a technicality – namely that the complaint wasn’t filed within two years of the alleged misconduct.

Somebody who was dissatisfied with the outcome leaked the complaint to the Santa Fe New Mexican, and now, true or not, it’s gained legs. Todd Hathorne, of Rio Rancho, claimed that in 2020 Lundstrom failed to disclose a memorandum of understanding that “directed” $1 million to her employer, the Greater Gallup Economic Development Corp.

That year, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a utility, announced it would close its coal-fired power plant, a blow to McKinley and Cibola counties. Lundstrom carried a complex bill to create an economic district around the plant to pave the way for redevelopment. She’s introduced similar bills.

Hathorne wrote in his complaint that as then chair of the House Appropriations and

Finance Committee, “Lundstrom played a key role in the financial decisions of the State. While she undoubtedly did good work in her role, she also used that role to secure” $1 million for her employer, which then paid her about $100,000 a year.

He asked the commission and the Attorney General to investigate.

The commission didn’t investigate, but it wouldn’t have been hard. “All you have to do is call DFA (the state Department of Finance and Administration) and ask if there’s a contract,” Lundstrom said. “There’s a process. They don’t just write you a check.”

Reporter Daniel Chacon confirmed there is no contract and therefore no check, and there is no million bucks in the memorandum of understanding. The memorandum was simply an agreement saying the utility, McKinley County and the economic development group would collaborate to redevelop, save jobs and help the community. It was a false accusation, Chacon concluded.

According to Chacon, Hathorne couldn’t tell him where in the memorandum it says the state would funnel money to Lundstrom’s employer. Hathorne said he relied on information shared with him during this year’s legislative session by an unidentified individual.

I would add that Hathorne misunderstood the economic development group’s financial underpinnings. The state doesn’t support it, the members do; Lundstrom’s alleged reward for funneling money is just her regular salary.

Chacon also reported that Hathorne is a member of the Republican Party of New Mexico’s Central Committee, which gives the episode a political scent. Lundstrom says she has many Republican friends and is mystified why the party would target her.

Hathorne admitted that Lundstrom “has made some good decisions” and even supported some Republican positions. “It wasn’t driven just by political agendas,” he told Chacon.

Recently, the New Mexican “obtained” the complaint, which is code for a leak. Here’s the rub. When lawmakers created the commission in 2017, one major concern was about false complaints that would make headlines, causing headaches for elected officials before anything was ever proven. The remedy was to keep the complaint confidential until the commission decides on probable cause.

“They dismissed it before I even knew it was filed,” Lundstrom said. “Then miraculously it ends up with the press.”

Lundstrom knows she’ll have to deal with this false complaint when she runs for office next year. “It’s got to be some kind of political hit,” she said. In the current climate, a political adversary needs only to flash a headline, and it doesn’t have to be true.

One leak set a sad precedent. Now nobody is safe.


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