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NM state legislator fined for possible campaign fund violations

By Vanessa de la Viña, vanessa@kvia.com
Published On: Oct 18 2012 08:21:38 PM CDT
Updated On: Jan 14 2014 06:31:49 PM CST

ABC-7's Vanessa de la Viña reports.

LAS CRUCES, N.M. -

New Mexico state Sen. Mary Jane Garcia is under investigation, accused of making illegal withdrawals from her campaign funds.

Garcia is also accused of getting double the reimbursements for travel expenses.

Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran fined Garcia, a Democrat, for illegally withdrawing more than $5,000 in cash from her campaign funds over the last three years.

The investigation began in the beginning of September after the treasurer for her opponent in the upcoming election filed a complaint.

In Bryan Stegall's complaint, he wrote, "For the past several election cycles, Madam Garcia has consistently withdrawn campaign funds as 'cash' from her campaign account, paid directly to herself."

This week, Duran sent Garcia a letter stating her office found 12 times that Garcia withdrew cash from her campaign funds to pay herself.

That's against state law. Candidates are not allowed to make withdrawals of more than $100 from their campaign funds as "cash."

Her opponent, Republican Lee Cotter, told ABC-7 everyone needs to follow the law, especially state legislators.

"We expect our elected officials to act with integrity above reproach, not padding their own pockets with campaign funds for personal gain. Seems like a shame," Cotter said.

Garcia denied any wrongdoing in a letter to Duran on Oct. 2.

"Contrary to Mr. Stegall's allegations, my reports indicate the money was spent on expenses I incurred while attending interim legislative committee meetings throughout the state," Garcia wrote.

Garcia attached copies of receipts for hotel stays, gasoline and meals as evidence.

Duran's letter also brings up another issue: All 12 times Garcia withdrew cash, she received reimbursements from the state for those same travel expenses.

For example, in July of 2011, Garcia withdrew $600 from campaign funds and was reimbursed more than $1,500 from the state for two committee meetings.

ABC-7 made several attempts to contact Garcia. She said to call her back in an hour and then did not answer the phone again.

Cotter said New Mexicans need an honest legislature.

"We are trying to make that consistency between what the citizens are supposed to do and what the legislators are supposed to do. In this case, it doesn't seem like they did. That's why we exposed it, and we're very pleased the secretary of state dealt with the issues quickly," Cotter said.

The Secretary of State's office told ABC-7 it will not make any comments until the investigation is completed.

Garcia has 10 days to explain the withdrawals. Then, Duran will make a final conclusion and can fine Garcia or waive the fine.

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