Dems claim state representative hid $91,000 state contract from voters

Republicans say financial disclosure gaffe was simple mistake

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE)- An up-and-coming republican state lawmaker who holds a key seat in the New Mexico House of Representatives did not report a $91,000 annual deal to rent space to a state agency, as required by New Mexico’s financial disclosure law for elected officials.

The state Democratic Party’s executive director filed a complaint with the secretary of state late last week in which he raised questions about whether Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, knew that her husband had a multi-year lease with the state Human Services Department.

But Maestas Barnes, who filed a corrected financial disclosure form earlier this month, said she did not know about the lease agreement and called the complaint “clearly politically motivated.” House District 15 is one of the most competitive statewide and is a hopeful pickup for Democrats after losing the seat — and control of the House — to Republicans in 2014.

Like all legislators, Maestas Barnes is required to disclose information about how she and her husband, Harry Barnes Jr., make a living. Her first two financial disclosure forms listed income from her work as an attorney and from her husband’s company, Transmission & Distribution Services, LLC. The part of those forms that asks whether an elected official or their spouse has provided “goods or services in excess of $5,000” to a state agency in the prior year is blank for both 2015 and 2016; the lease agreement clearly meets that standard.

“I’m not involved in my husband’s day-to-day dealings,” Maestas Barnes said. “He’s very involved with a lot of different entities and he and I don’t have those types of conversations. As soon as I became aware of it, I immediately disclosed it.”

The lease isn’t held by Transmission & Distribution Services, which has its offices in the building at 8909 Adams St. NE. Rather, another company, T&D Fortress, is paid roughly $7,500 dollars a month to provide office space for the Human Services Department’s Inspector General.

State Democratic Party Executive Director Joe Kabourek, who filed the complaint, said “This is a huge amount of money. This is not a couple hundred dollars. This is $91,000 — almost $100,000 a year — and that is something that it’s hard to see how that would be an oversight.”

New Mexico’s financial disclosure law does make it a crime to “knowingly and willfully” omit such information, but the legal standard is hard to prove. What’s more, the law directs the secretary of state to seek voluntary compliance with any mistakes before pursuing fines or other civil penalties.

Since Maestas Barnes has already filed a corrected disclosure form with the state, it’s unlikely — though not impossible — that further sanctions may be handed down.

University of New Mexico Political Science professor Gabe Sanchez said that while the timing of the complaint — Maestas Barnes is set to hold a job fair on Wednesday — is curious, the complaint itself shouldn’t be a surprise.

“It’s fair game in terms of the disclosure rules that we do have in place here in the state of New Mexico,” Sanchez said. “Everybody knows that it’s an election season with the entire legislature up for grabs and this is one of those that’s targeted as a really tight race.”

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