Politicians spend campaign funds on many questionable things. But massages? A random examination of the campaign expenditure reports of State Representative Miguel P. Garcia, Democrat of Albuquerque, found he has been buying massages, “spinal adjustments” and medications with campaign funds since 2010 in apparent violation of state law.
A closer look at his financial reporting found that he has sought payment for round trip mileage for driving his personal car to and from Santa Fe for interim legislative committee meetings though he made those trips in whole or part by taking the Rail Runner.
It also appears that Garcia used tax-exempt campaign funds to buy gasoline for trips he subsequently charged to the State.
An e-mail we received from Rep. Garcia not only confirms much of what we found, but raises additional questions about his claims for mileage reimbursement.
Massages as a Campaign Expense
Miguel P. Garcia has represented House District 14 in Albuquerque’s South Valley for the past 15 years. Since at least May of 2010, he has been paying for “spinal adjustments” and massages out of his tax-exempt campaign funds. We cannot confidently research beyond 2010 because the records in the Secretary of State’s archives from the prior administration of Mary Herrera are grossly incomplete. Some of Garcia’s campaign finance reports simply do not exist in the computerized files of the Secretary of State. In other cases, only the first page of eleven-page reports was scanned by Herrera’s staff.
Garcia received his massage treatments from Albuquerque Medical Massage, located on the second floor at 1101 Cardenas NE. New Mexico Watchdog confirmed that business to be a legitimate massage therapist operated by a Craig Sovereign. The business provides its services in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
The spinal adjustments were provided by a firm called Spinal Health that had been located at 1125 Kent NW, Albuquerque. We did not find a business by that name at that address. The current occupant is a physician.
Garcia also purchased “remedios and wellness items” from Ruppe’s pharmacy on south Fourth Street in Albuquerque. The highest charge we found was $43.75.
According to Garcia’s campaign expenditure reports from 2010 to the latest filing, the massages cost either $70 or $75 per session. Garcia’s expenditures show he used campaign funds to buy massages at irregular intervals, with the earliest massage recorded on May 25, 2010, and the most recent on July 13, 2012.
The “spinal adjustments” cost either $30 or $35, according to the same campaign expenditure reports. The earliest was recorded on May 17, 2010; the most recent November 11, 2010. Garcia did not report buying any massages or spinal adjustments with campaign funds in 2011.
We counted 18 instances where Garcia charged his campaign funds for massages, spinal adjustments or medications.
Mr. Garcia sent us an e-mail explanation after we called him for comment. He had this to say:
I busted my back twice while working construction in my younger days. Sciatica nerve goes out on me about two or three times during a campaign season especially when I am walking door to door. It is the getting in and out of the car that triggers the sciatica. Message [sic] therapy is the only affordable therapy that helps.
Is This Legal?
Does the law permit the use of tax-exempt campaign funds to cover personal medical expenses? Section 1-19-29.1 of New Mexico Statutes Annotated governs this issue. That law makes it illegal to spend contributions received except for “expenditures of the campaign” or “expenditures of legislators that are reasonably related to performing the duties of the office held, including mail, telephone and travel expenditures to serve constituents, but excluding personal and legislative session living expenses.” The other permissible uses of campaign funds, such as donations to the state’s general fund, are not pertinent.
The law seems to exclude “personal” living expenses as a permissible use of campaign funds. It is hard to see how Garcia’s use of campaign funds to treat long-running medical problems is a permissible “campaign expenditure.”
Riding the Rail Runner, Charging Mileage
A comparison of Rep. Garcia’s campaign expenditure reports with his mileage and per diem requests shows that he has claimed mileage reimbursement on the same day he has traveled to Santa Fe on the Rail Runner. For instance, on November 30, 2011, Garcia used his campaign funds to purchase a $21 dollar round trip ticket on the Rail Runner. His campaign report explains the purpose as “train fare interim committee.” That day there was a meeting of the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee, one of the committees on which Garcia sits. Garcia claimed a per diem reimbursement for that day and the following day. He also claimed that he drove to Santa Fe that day and returned on December 1, 2011, for a distance of 118 miles, and requested mileage reimbursement of $65.49.
On June 20, 2012, Garcia charged his campaign $9 for a one-way ticket on the RailRunner to Santa Fe. His explanation on his expenditure report: “train pass for interim committee.” There was a meeting of the interim Investment and Pension Oversight Committee on that day. Garcia requested $176 per diem for June 20, 2012. He also requested reimbursement of $65.49 for claiming to have driven his car 118 miles round-trip to and from Santa Fe on that day.
On June 24, 2012, Garcia charged his campaign $9 for a one-way Rail Runner ticket to Santa Fe from Albuquerque. The reason: “train fare interim committee.” There was no meeting that day of any interim committee on which he sits. But there was a meeting the following day of the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee. He claimed to have attended that meeting when he requested $176 per diem and $65.49 for driving 118 miles round trip.
If Garcia falsely requested mileage reimbursement for trips he made as a passenger on the Rail Runner, his conduct could run afoul of New Mexico’s criminal statute against false vouchers. NMSA Section 30-23-3 states: Making or permitting false public voucher consists of knowingly, intentionally or willfully making, causing to be made or permitting to be made, a false material statement or forged signature upon any public voucher, or invoice supporting a public voucher, with intent that the voucher or invoice shall be relied upon for the expenditure of public money. Whoever commits making or permitting false public voucher is guilty of a fourth degree felony.
Here is Representative Garcia’s explanation, provided by e-mail, of his practice of charging the state for round-trip mileage between Albuquerque and Santa Fe when he made all or part of the trip as a passenger on the RailRunner:
On the Rail Runner per diem, I usually take the car up and come back home in the Rail Runner. Or the opposite, I take the Rail Runner up, and come back in the car. It is an extra car that I leave at a friends house not far from the Capitol. If Legislative Council feels that I am not entitled to full mileage per diem because of this scenario, I will gladly compensate them.
We did not find any instance of Garcia requesting compensation for less than a full 118 mile round trip by personal automobile. He has not requested compensation for driving only one way.
Charging Gas to His Campaign for Gas, and Mileage to the State for the Same Trip
Garcia’s records suggest that he has used campaign funds to fill his car with gas for trips for which he later sought mileage reimbursement from the state. It is generally understood that a mileage reimbursement for personal vehicle use is intended to cover the cost of gasoline consumed in travel, as well as wear and tear on the vehicle.
A frequent entry in Rep. Garcia’s campaign expenditure reports is “campaign trail fill up” or “campaign gas fill up.” All of such entries since 2010 show he has bought gasoline at the same Fina station at 1111 Lomas NW in Albuquerque. That station is outside the geographical boundaries of the House District represented by Garcia.
On October 22, 2010, for instance, Garcia filled up his vehicle at the Lomas Fina station, and charged his campaign for a “campaign gas fill up.” But he also charged the state $153 per diem that day for attending an interim committee meeting in Santa Fe. He claimed to have driven round trip from Albuquerque for a distance of 118 miles, amounting to a $59 mileage charge.
Another example: On July 6, 2010, he charged his campaign for a fill up at the Lomas Fina station. On the same day, his per diem and mileage report states he drove to Santa Fe for interim committee meetings that kept him there for the next three days. He claimed $59 mileage for a round trip of 118 miles.
On November 26, 2010, Garcia charged his campaign for a fill up at the same location. This time, his report states the purpose was “interim committee fill up.” But his per diem records do not show that he attended any interim committee meeting that day.
On November 15, 2010, he also had charged his campaign for an “interim committee fill up.” Again, his per diem records do not show that he attended any committee meeting on that day.
On other days, he would charge his campaign for a fill up and then drive the next day to Santa Fe, and then seek mileage reimbursement from the State.
On June 14, 2010, he charged his campaign for a fill up, then drove to Santa Fe. He charged the State mileage for the trip.
We were unable to speak with Rep. Garcia about his apparent practice of recouping through a state mileage reimbursement the cost of gasoline that had been purchased by his campaign fund. As quoted above, he told us he was in “no shape” to speak with us due an allergy attack. He did not return our last e-mail inquiry.
KRQE-TV Channel 13 in Albuquerque led their 10 o’clock broadcast on 9/24/12 with coverage of this report. You can see their broadcast at this link.