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Updated: Did Denish’s Office Use Public Funds to Aid Kerry for President 2004 Campaign?

By   /   November 9, 2009  /   No Comments

A worker for Lt. Governor Diane Denish was paid from public funds for time billed on August 4, 2004, as “work on Kerry for Saturday.” That Saturday, on a train leased by his presidential campaign committee, John Kerry rolled into Las Vegas, New Mexico, for a political rally and then into Albuquerque for the night.

A week before, the same worker in the Lt. Governor’s office billed and was paid for eight hours described as “DNC media binder, organizing clips, manning front office while Barbara attended day-long class.” “DNC” are commonly known as the initials of the Democratic National Committee.

The same worker was later paid with public funds to work on Christmas cards distributed by Denish’s political election committee.

In a previous report by New Mexico Watchdog on how Lt. Governor Denish chose to spend $225,000 in federal stimulus funds given her by Governor Bill Richardson, we revealed how she spent that money on public relations, a chauffeur, and opinion polling. Federal funds were also used to pay a contractor to “pick up things” at Denish’s house, pick Denish up at airports, to take Christmas pictures and to work on the Christmas card project of Denish’s political campaign committee.

Questions have been raised by Denish’s GOP opponents about the legality of those expenditures. Allen Weh, a Republican seeking the GOP nod to challenge Denish, the presumptive Democratic nominee, has called for investigations by the U.S. and New Mexico Attorneys General and the New Mexico State Auditor. Dona Ana County District Attorney Susana Martinez, another GOP contender, has called upon Denish to account for her use of stimulus funds. Former Congresswoman Heather Wilson has called for a federal audit of Denish’s use of the federal funds, claiming that public relations and Christmas cards for Denish’s campaign committee were not uses permitted by the federal law under which those monies were distributed to the state of New Mexico. Wilson was in Congress at the time that law was passed. Wilson has also expressed concern that Denish was using the money for political campaigns.

The funds in question were part of a $62 million allocation to New Mexico under the 2003 Job Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act. Title IV, Section 601 (d)(1) of that Act restricted how the funds could be used. They could only be spent to:

‘‘(A) provide essential government services; or

‘‘(B) cover the costs to the State of complying with

any Federal intergovernmental mandate (as defined in section

421(5) of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974) to

the extent that the mandate applies to the State, and

the Federal Government has not provided funds to cover

the costs.”

Section 2 of that paragraph further provided:

“A State may only use funds provided

under a payment made under this section for types of expenditures

permitted under the most recently approved budget for

the State.”

Governor Richardson, without legislative approval and apparently in violation of the New Mexico State Constitution, gave Denish $225,000 of the federal funds received under this act. The sum was given to Denish, according to a report of the Department of Finance and Administration, for “various projects,” with no other directive to Denish on how to spend the money.

A report by The Albuquerque Journal following release of our first article on this subject revealed that Denish used these federal funds to pay a contractor to work on Christmas cards for her campaign committee. The Journal also reported, consistent with out findings, that Denish spent the majority of the funds on public relations.

Did Denish’s Office Use Federal Funds to Aid the Kerry for President 2004 Campaign?

Lauran Cowdrey, a former producer at KOB-TV, worked under a personal services contract for Denish during the Spring, Summer and Fall of 2004. She was paid from the federal funds transferred at Richardson’s direction into the Lt. Governor’s operating budget. Cowdrey submitted invoices to Denish’s office. These invoices contained a statement of “billable hours,” reporting the hours billed to the Lt. Governor each day, but not breaking out the time spent on each action item among the day’s activities. Cowdrey’s invoices were submitted to Sonya Carrasco-Trujillo in the Lt. Governor’s office, then Denish’s deputy chief-of-staff. Cowdrey took a job as a spokeswoman with the Albuquerque Public Schools after her work for Denish ended in November 2004. New Mexico Watchdog has not yet been able to contact Cowdrey directly.

Cowdrey’s invoice dated August 13, 2004, contains billings for her work done for the time frame of August 2 through August 13, 2004. Cowdrey’s time for 8/4/04 was recorded and billed as follows. This is a complete verbatim quote of that time entry (bold face added):

8/4 9 hours; More tax credit plan work, set up interviews, work on Kerry for Saturday, constituent letter for Carlos, etc.

Kerry, his vice-presidential running mate, John Edwards, and their wives, on Saturday, August 7, 2004, rode a private train from Colorado. It slowed in Raton and stopped for a large campaign rally in Las Vegas, New Mexico. That evening, the train still carrying Kerry and his campaign entourage traveled to Albuquerque. There Kerry spent the night.

New Mexico Watchdog has asked Denish’s office if this entry means Cowdrey was doing any work on the Kerry for President campaign. We pointed Denish’s spokeswoman, Sam Thompson, and Denish’s Chief of Staff, Joshua Rosen, to this specific time entry. As of the posting of this report, we have yet to receive any comment from Denish’s office.

Cowdrey was being paid $23.50 per hour. Her invoice for the 9 hours on 8/4/04, including the entry containing the time entry “work on Kerry for Saturday,” was approved on 8/12/04 on a payment voucher singed by a Samantha Johnson. The invoice with the time entries that accompanied the payment voucher was stamped with the following certification:

The Lt. Governor’s office hereby certifies that as of the date set forth below the items listed on this request for payment were received and accepted.

The certification was dated August 11, 2004, two days before the August 13, 2004, date of the invoice itself. The signature accompanying the certification is not yet identified. It matches the signature approving Cowdrey’s other invoices in 2004.

The payment voucher approving payment for Cowdrey’s August 13, 2004, was approved August 12, 2004, one day before Cowdrey submitted her invoice and before 8 hours of work Cowdrey charged on August 13, 2004.

Did Public Dollars Pay for Work for the Democratic National Committee?

The week before Cowdrey did “work on Kerry for Saturday,” she recorded and billed the following. This is a complete verbatim quote of that time entry (boldface added):

“7/28 8 hours: DNC media binder, organizing clips, manning front office while Barbara attended day-long class.”

The abbreviation “DNC” generally refers in the world of government and politics to the Democratic National Committee. Denish’s office has not yet responded to a request for clarification as to whether “DNC” stands for “Democratic National Committee” or is an abbreviation for something else.

Cowdrey’s invoice for work on the “DNC media binder” was paid in the same voucher for which she was paid for her “work on Kerry for Saturday” entry.

UPDATE: At the end of the day this report was released, the Lt. Governor’s chief of staff released a statement, but still would not answer questions. Though we were the ones who asked the questions about these invoices, we have yet to receive any communication from the Lt. Governor’s office. But Steve Terrell of The New Mexican got the statement and copied it at his blog. Steve also went back and reexamined the same records we covered in this report and confirmed the time entries we found. Here is the statement from the LTG’s Chief of Staff according to Terrell:

“The part-time employees hired by the Lieutenant Governor’s office spent their time assisting with state duties, such as promoting a micro-loan program that has helped more than 1,800 New Mexico small businesses expand and create jobs. The invoices are five years old, and as far as we can recall, any work relating to an event for Sen. Kerry or the 2004 election was limited to fielding media calls and providing logistical information about the Lt. Governor’s role. The Lt. Governor does not permit her state staff to set up political events during work hours, and as the office continues to review documents, problems will be addressed if they arise. But let’s not forget that these allegations continue to come from a right-wing organization that exists solely to distort information and make partisan political attacks, not to present facts in an objective manner.”

Denish’s Chief of Staff did not address the issue of the “DNC media binder” in this statement. It also does not explain why, if Cowdrey was fielding calls regarding the Kerry event the time entry doesn’t say that, but says “work on Kerry for Saturday,” indicating work being done for the Saturday Kerry events in New Mexico. Denish’s Chief of Staff also failed to explain why Cowdrey’s bill was approved for payment before work on the time sheets could have been performed, since the approval date preceded the date of the work items.

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