Campaign funds can be spent on a wide range of products and services, from yard signs and mailers to television commercials and political consulting.
What about hair and makeup?
That is the crux of the issue in an ethics complaint filed against Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham over more than $6,000 in payments from campaign funds to her daughter Erin Grisham, a hair and makeup specialist, since 2017. The governor’s campaign finance reports list the expenses as “media preparation” services.
“The governor’s personal use of campaign funds for hair and makeup through her daughter is a flagrant violation of New Mexico state law, as hair and makeup are not appropriate uses of campaign dollars,” John Block, editor of the Piñon Post, a conservative online news site, wrote in his complaint against the governor, a Democrat.
“No public servant in New Mexico should be above the law regardless of what office they may occupy,” Block wrote.
In his complaint, filed with the New Mexico Ethics Commission and referred to the Secretary of State’s Office, Block cited state statute, as well as a 2020 Secretary of State’s Office campaign finance reporting guide, which says hair, nail and makeup expenses are impermissible.
Jared Leopold, a spokesman for Lujan Grisham’s campaign, contends the hair and makeup expenses were campaign-related and were tied to Lujan Grisham’s media appearances in her official role as governor.
“This is a frivolous and sexist complaint,” he wrote in an email, calling Block “a discredited Republican operative,” pointing to his appearance outside the Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection by Trump supporters.
“These routine political expenses were for the governor’s speech and 14 other events she addressed for the Democratic National Convention in August 2020,” Leopold wrote. “This type of event preparation expense is a common and necessary political expenditure for politicians of both parties.”
Leopold included a link to former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s campaign finance reports from 2010, which included a $1,385 expenditure for “styling.”
Alex Curtas, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said the office has 30 days from the date of a complaint’s filing to make a determination in the case. The first step is sending what he called an “inquiry letter” to the person or organization targeted in the complaint, asking for a response to the allegations.
“They have 10 days to respond,” he said. “At this point, I can’t say one way or the other what our determination is going to be.”
The “real arbiter” will be the Campaign Reporting Act, Curtas said.
Expenditures “reasonably attributable” to a candidate’s campaign “and not to personal use or personal living expenses” are permissible under the law.
“Personal use of campaign funds is any use of funds in a campaign account to fulfill a commitment, obligation or expense of any candidate or legislator that would exist regardless of the candidate’s campaign or responsibilities as a legislator,” the law states. “If the expense would exist even in the absence of the candidacy, or even if the legislator were not in office, then it is not considered to be a campaign-related expenditure.”
In its reporting guide, the Secretary of State’s Office offers two examples of what is and isn’t allowed. In the first example, a permissible expense would be a legislator who paid for travel and lodging with campaign funds to attend an environmental conference. In the second example, an impermissible expenditure of campaign funds would be “a candidate for the legislature [who] would like to get her nails done prior to walking neighborhoods in her district to meet and greet [voters].”
The governor’s press secretary referred inquiries to Lujan Grisham’s campaign.
Efforts to reach Lujan Grisham’s daughter for comment were unsuccessful.
According Erin Grisham’s LinkedIn page, which has since been deleted, she is a hair and makeup specialist who is a “stylist and cosmetology consultant” for the governor. Erin Grisham also has been a “freelance hair and makeup artist for congressional members” at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute gala and the Democratic National Convention, both in 2016, as well as for members of the state House of Representatives.
The Republican Party of New Mexico called on the state attorney general and state auditor to investigate the governor over the payments to her daughter, writing in a news release that an ethics complaint “revealed she is breaking state law regarding campaign fund spending.”
Campaign reports show five separate payments to “Beauty by Erin Grisham” between August 2017 and October. The payments ranged from $400 to $2,080.
“The Governor must be held accountable,” party Chairman Steve Pearce said in a statement. “For the past year, she has exceeded her authority, taken away New Mexicans’ freedoms and broken her own rules. This Governor has broken the law, and there must be consequences or there’s no longer law and order in our government.”
The ethics complaint marks the second time the governor’s use of campaign funds have come under scrutiny.
Reports surfaced last month of the governor’s campaign, New Mexicans for Michelle, making five monthly payments of $12,500 each between November and March as part of a settlement with a former campaign staffer who had accused Lujan Grisham of grabbing his genitals. The Secretary of State’s Office has said those payments were permissible because they were campaign-related.