(The Center Square) – While New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered the closing of certain grocery stores over COVID-19 concerns, she spent $16,248 in taxpayer money on 153 different trips to Santa Fe grocery stores for herself and her staff, a report by KOB4 News revealed.
This is in addition to thousands of taxpayer dollars she spent to build a doggy door, purchase alcohol and pay for boot and shoe repair and dry cleaning, according to the report.
Still suffering from COVID-19 lockdowns and one of the nation's highest unemployment rates of 8.2 percent, New Mexicans continue to express outrage over Grisham’s spending and defense of it. At one point, the governor joked, “Listen, I’m thick-skinned, and apparently with all my eating, it’s just getting thicker.”
After she ordered that dozens of grocery stores be closed, New Mexicans were forced to wait outside in the cold for hours to gain access to buy food.
“It’s infuriating to see the governor recklessly spend taxpayer dollars on gourmet meals and booze for a party while our state has an unemployment rate that is among the highest in the nation," Larry Behrens, Western States Director for Power The Future, told The Center Square. "New Mexico’s energy workers provide revenue that makes up 40 percent of the state budget, yet because of this governor’s disastrous decisions the number of energy jobs in our state hasn’t been this low in over a decade. Simple question: If the governor continues to destroy the energy industry in our state, how is she going to continue to afford her Wagyu beef?”
Senate Republicans complained to the state auditor’s office, which is opening an investigation. The New Mexico Republican Party is demanding that the governor repay the money to the fund.
In a statement about the state auditor's inquiry, a spokesperson for the governor said, "We know the auditor as a matter of course reviews any complaints that are made to his office. As our office has said, we acknowledge some of the purchases were more than what was necessary but none were outside of the bounds of what the fund may be used for."
The public outcry began after KOB 4 Investigates Team published the findings of an audit of a year’s worth of the governor’s expenditures from her contingency fund. Of the $16,248 spent on groceries, investigators found, $6,500 was spent on groceries for the governor’s residence that is kept in a locked pantry; $550 on alcohol purchases.
The governor’s office says some of this money was used to purchase food for staff and cabinet members for meetings, including food for state police.
“But after checking with NMSP on policies related to an officer’s conduct inside the mansion, a NMSP spokesman stated through an email, ‘agents provide their own lunch or purchase food using their own financial accounts unless on travel or per diem.’ Policy does not allow New Mexico State Police Officers to eat the taxpayer paid food inside the governor's mansion,” KOB4 reports.
The governor also used nearly $800 of the fund to pay for dry cleaning and boot/shoe repairs, which her office defended as “directly related to her duties as governor.”
Alcohol spending in September alone included more than $200 on five bottles of tequila, two bottles of vodka, two bottles of Merlot and single bottles of whiskey and gin, according to a report by the Santa Fe New Mexican.
While the state was in lockdown, social distancing and capacity limits were in place, the governor’s office purchased the alcohol for a party, which was ultimately canceled.
Republican state House Minority Whip Rod Montoya told the New Mexican, "I didn’t realize the governor was so underpaid that she has to use discretionary money for things that she should be paying for herself. Legislators are all up here doing our job, and we’re doing it on per diem."
"It’s not what tax dollars ought to be spent for," New Mexico House Minority Leader Jim Townsend said. "In a time when people are hurting all over the state, using their tax dollars to buy Wagyu beef has got to be a little bit disenchanting to many people.
"I think it’s just more of indication of the problem that we have had, and the governor has had, connecting with people," he added.
The Republican Governor’s Association tweeted, “While New Mexican businesses were ordered shut and families were struggling to get by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham decided to spend their taxpayer dollars on luxury grocery goods and ignore her own lockdown rules.”
After the auditor’s announcement, the RGA tweeted, “NM State Auditor is opening an investigation into Gov. Grisham’s use of taxpayer funds to purchase wagyu beef, dry cleaning and booze. This comes after she was found lying about the timeline of purchases in an earlier report.”
The RGA created a video highlighting news reports showing long grocery lines, the dozens of grocery stores the governor closed, and copies of bills and expenditures including using taxpayer money to purchase doggy doors, alcohol and dry cleaning. “New Mexicans made sacrifices to step up and help” during the shutdown, the voice over to the video states, “but what about Michell Lujan Grisham?”
The governor’s contingency fund is paid for by taxpayers and is appropriated by the New Mexico legislature. It is allocated to be spent on functions, events or items to promote New Mexico.
A new law passed in 2018, which went into effect in 2019, requires the governor’s office to provide detailed receipts of how the contingency fund is spent. It doesn’t stipulate whether the money can be used for grocery and alcohol purchases; it states the money cannot be used to supplement the governor's salary or for any allowances.