State Rep. Rebecca Dow waged a monthslong legal fight to avoid testifying on allegations in an ethics case accusing her of violating financial disclosure rules and government conduct codes.
She even paid a $50-a-day fine imposed by a state judge, totaling over $4,100, while she delayed an interview with the State Ethics Commission’s general counsel, arguing the case had no merit, she had complied with mandates on financial disclosures and she did not violate conduct codes, according to dozens of documents the commission provided in response to a public records request.
The commission is investigating whether Dow, a Republican from Truth or Consequences who founded the nonprofit AppleTree Educational Center 20 years ago, failed to disclose how much the organization paid her in 2019, when she stepped down as its director and became a volunteer, and whether she used her position as a lawmaker to lobby on behalf of the faith-based preschool provider before state agencies.
The allegations stem from a September 2020 complaint by Karen Whitlock, Dow’s Democratic opponent in the November 2020 House District 38 race. Dow, who now is running for the GOP nomination in the governor’s race, has said repeatedly the allegations are baseless and politically motivated.
The commission determined most of Whitlock’s allegations did not fall within its scope.
However, General Counsel Walker Boyd filed a nearly 400-page report of findings with the commission in December, saying some of the allegations in Whitlock’s complaint “are supported by probable cause.” He recommended the commission hold what would be its first hearing on a complaint since its inception two years ago.
The State Ethics Commission is planning to hold the public hearing. Legal proceedings in the case also could continue. In September, Dow petitioned the New Mexico Court of Appeals, seeking dismissal of the ethics complaint, records show.
“I want to go before a judge instead of an unelected bureaucrat,” Dow said in an interview Thursday. “Right now, a state employee of the ethics commission is my judge and jury.”
She added: “I have given to my community, not taken from it, and I’m not going to apologize for advocating for nonprofit populations in my county or across the state.”
Boyd’s report details a lengthy battle between the commission and Dow to get her to agree to a deposition. The commission first reached out to a state District Court for help in February, when it requested the right to order Dow to appear before Boyd for the interview.
Dow eventually agreed to the interview in October, after she and her attorneys had filed a string of appeals to try to prevent it. They said the commission did not follow a requirement to go through the Secretary of State’s Office on financial disclosure matters, it had filed motions in an improper District Court and its subpoena did not have the power to force AppleTree to turn over financial and employment documents on Dow.
State District Judge Jim T. Martin dismissed those petitions one by one and ordered Dow to appear before the commission in May. Instead, Dow began paying $50 a day in fines for refusing to comply. She also agreed to pay over $615 to cover costs incurred by the commission in preparing for and attending the scheduled deposition.
Dow said Thursday the funds to cover those costs came from her personal account and not from her campaign.
In September, Martin wrote Dow was engaging in “dilatory litigation tactics in an apparent effort to unsuccessfully delay the proceedings.”
The following month, she appeared for the interview and answered dozens of questions about her role with AppleTree and her work as a lawmaker. At the time, she said it was not uncommon for her to advocate for any nonprofit before state agencies and her practice of identifying herself as a state representative in an email or phone message doesn’t indicate that’s her role when talking about AppleTree.
Dow said Thursday she has done her best to amend her financial disclosure form as requested by the State Ethics Commission.
In the deposition, records show, she said she might have “over-reported” her earnings and never did anything to mislead anyone about her role with the nonprofit.
She and her attorney, Lucas Williams of Roswell, have “voluntarily provided a response to each interrogatory question” the commission asked, Dow said Thursday.
Williams did not return a call seeking comment.
Sonny Haquani, a spokesman for the commission, said earlier this week that its hearing officer, former federal Judge Alan C. Torgerson, will set a date for Dow’s hearing after he reviews all the material related to the complaint.
The ethics commission is tasked with overseeing the state’s laws on campaign finances, lobbying, financial disclosures and other areas of government conduct, including accusations of sexual harassment against a public official.
Under state laws governing its operation, it cannot disclose information regarding a complaint unless it leads to a public hearing, as in Dow’s case. In December, Boyd asked the commission to give Dow 30 days’ notice the complaint would become public Jan. 7.