New Mexico’s bipartisan and independent State Ethics Commission — sworn in a year ago and officially operating since January — has made its first request for a judge to approve a subpoena in an investigation into an ethics complaint.
The case will remain secret, however, unless the seven-member commission determines there is evidence of wrongdoing.
Ethics Commission spokesman Sonny Haquani said state statute requires a finding of probable cause before the panel can publicly release any details regarding a case.
So far, he said, the commission has received 30 complaints.None has been made public.
In many cases, commissioners have decided there is a lack of evidence for a finding of probable cause. Sometimes, however, they determine the subject of the complaint doesn’t fall under their jurisdiction.
‘If complaints are supported by an investigation, they become public,” Haquani said. “No cases have yet gone to that stage.”
The case that prompted the subpoena request is “one of our administrative cases still under investigation by our general counsel,” Walker Boyd, Haquani said.
“I don’t think general counsel would seek a subpoena if there wasn’t reason for it,” he added.
During a meeting Aug. 7, the State Ethics Commission considered a handful of complaints behind closed doors. Following the executive session, commissioners announced they didn’t have authority to pursue the undisclosed cases, listed on a meeting agenda only as a series of numbers.
The commission is tasked with overseeing the state’s laws on campaign finance, lobbying, financial disclosure and other areas of conduct, including accusations of sexual harassment against a public official.
New Mexico has had its share of high-profile corruption scandals involving public officials in recent years, prompting government watchdog groups and some policymakers to campaign for an ethics watchdog.
In 2018, 75 percent of New Mexico voters backed a constitutional amendment allowing the state to create an ethics commission, and lawmakers approved legislation in 2019 to move the process forward. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the bill into law shortly after.