The Republican Governors Association pounced on Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday following revelations of a settlement of at least $62,500 with a former campaign staffer who accused the first-term Democrat of grabbing his genitals.

The association, which already has put a target on the governor’s back as she seeks a second term in office, dubbed the settlement “a $62,500 crotch grab.”

“After years of vehement denial, Governor Lujan Grisham’s now revealed sexual harassment settlement certainly raises questions of why she tried to discredit her alleged victim,” association spokesman Will Reinert wrote in an email. “Where there is smoke there is usually fire, and Lujan Grisham just wrote a check for $62,500 worth of kindling.”

Actually, a series of checks.

According to campaign finance reports filed Monday with the Secretary of State’s Office, the governor’s campaign, New Mexicans for Michelle, made five monthly payments of $12,500 each between November and March to Buckley Beale LLP, an Atlanta-based law firm representing James Hallinan, who served as Lujan Grisham’s communications director during her candidacy for governor.

“Governor Lujan Grisham and Mr. Hallinan have resolved any differences or issues to their satisfaction. I am not able to provide any further information,” Rachel Berlin Benjamin, a senior partner at the firm, wrote in an email.

Hallinan, who did not return a message seeking comment, accused Lujan Grisham of sexual assault during a routine campaign meeting in the months leading up to the 2018 general election.

Hallinan, who first alluded to the alleged assault in a 2019 Christmas Day tweet, told The New Mexican in an interview that year Lujan Grisham had dumped water on his crotch and then touched his genitals. He described the incident as a “slap and grab” that haunted him daily.

“It’s eaten away at me every single day, all the time. And I’m not the only one, like I tweeted,” he said at the time. “They can try to defame me and say I’m horrible, that I’m this or that. No one is perfect, and they can criticize me all they want, but that doesn’t change what happened.”

The settlement involved Hallinan, the governor and her gubernatorial campaign, and Dominic Gabello, who worked as her campaign adviser and now works in the Governor’s Office.

Nora Meyers Sackett, the governor’s press secretary, wrote in an email that “the state doesn’t have any comment as this is not official state business. Our office maintains there is no merit to the allegations.”

In a statement, campaign spokesman Jared Leopold said the agreement with Hallinan settles “numerous dubious and disputed potential claims made by Mr. Hallinan arising from his employment in 2018 with the campaign organization and his subsequent search for employment.”

In the 2019 interview with The New Mexican, Hallinan said he tried to leave Lujan Grisham’s campaign after the incident, but Gabello encouraged him not to go to the police and pressured him to stay on the campaign staff until the election.

“He pressured me on the phone later that night not to quit. I tried to quit,” Hallinan said. “And I wanted to talk and they didn’t want me to talk to law enforcement.”

Leopold also said the settlement agreement “fully resolves the disputed potential claims,” but he did not respond when asked if the total settlement was $62,500 or if future payments were planned.

“Governor Lujan Grisham, the campaign organization and Mr. Gabello strenuously deny that there is any merit or truth to Mr. Hallinan’s claims including his claims about difficulty finding or keeping work after the campaign,” he said in the statement. “They reached a settlement in order to avoid the continuing distraction and significant expense of possible litigation and allow them to concentrate on working for the people of New Mexico during this pandemic.”

Reinert, the Republican Governors Association spokesman, claimed the payments to Hallinan “certainly suggest that there must be some truth to the story” and wrote that Lujan Grisham “should publicly apologize to her victim for her behavior.”

While Leopold wouldn’t disclose whether the settlement exceeds $62,500, he called Reinert’s comments a Republican political attack that isn’t credible or true.

“There is no merit or truth to the claims,” he wrote.

In campaign finance reports, the payments were listed only as “legal expenses” to Buckley Beale LLP but didn’t state a purpose. The Republican Party of New Mexico tweeted that Lujan Grisham is “quietly paying off a former staffer” who accused her of grabbing his crotch after pouring a bottle of water on his genitals.

Alex Curtas, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said the payments from campaign funds are a permissible expenditure under the Campaign Finance Act.

“Since the whole thing deals with what happened during the campaign, and he was a campaign staffer, that is an acceptable use of those funds in that context,” he said.

The act states that “legal expenses specifically related to the campaign or legislative office are permissible uses of campaign funds.” It also states that “expenditures that are reasonably attributable to the candidate’s campaign and not to personal use or personal living expenses are permissible campaign expenditures.”

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter

@danieljchacon.

(30) comments

Red Eagle

Just remember this when you go to contribute to her campaign next year!

Karry Howard

Does anyone believe Manny Cordova blames the Republicans for the Governor's actions? The only thing that ties this issue to anything partisan is that MLG paid the settlement off with donations from her own Democrat supporters. If she was being falsely accused why would a woman of her power ever settle out of court? I can only wonder how many others will come forward now and does she have enough in her donation purse to make them all go away?

Bernadette Gonzales

I don’t believe his allegation for a minute. Why would Grisham do such a thing while she’s running for office? It would be total stupidity on her part. This is simply a way to get paid off.

Daniel Valdez

Well Bernadette, you got the stupidity on her part correct. Maybe spending high amounts of tax payer money on wagyu beef and alcohol was stupidity on her part also??? She's just another "Do as I say, not as I do", corrupt hypocrite politician.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

Andrew Lucero

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

zach miller

this person is allowed to feel assaulted and seek reconciliation. I just think an accident isn't the same as beating your wife half to death because your hair plugs look bad. Or paying for 17 year olds to cross state lines to have sex with you. but that doesn't mean people who make up things to live in their own little fantasy land won't use this as an excuse to continue living in that fantasy.

Michael Kauffman

It may be permissible for the campaign to pay their own atty's fees, but these payments are going to Hallinan's attys who are in an adverse position to the campaign. Another concern is that just because the payments are being made to a law firm doesn't necessarily they are for atty's fees. It may be money to Hallinan as part of a settlement being paid through his attys.

Cheryl Meyer

I just can't buy the argument that campaign funds are okay to pay off this type of thing. The argument is convoluted.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup] Agreed, she should have to pay out of her own pocket for her dalliances, this is a personal problem, not a campaign issue. But remember, she wanted us to pick up the tab for all the Wagyu steaks, tequila, etc. for her parties.

Maria Bautista

Play and Pay. Does her "fiance" know about her extra curricular activities? Remember Suzanna...

Vince Czarnowski

This woman's hypocrisy has no end.

zach miller

I wish I could get millions of dollars because someone spilled water on me.

Prince Michael Jauregui

In all Fairness to both parties involved, this is a serious case of "He Said, She Said". Especially when it involves the state's Governor. Now, the question begs: Does anyone pay a $62,000 settlement, because they're innocent?

Mike Johnson

Good point hermano. Remember what all the Ds said when Trump paid off his sexual conquests, if they are all silent now, could this be hypocrisy?

zach miller

I don't remember trump's accusers saying the only thing trump did was spill a liquid on them and then try to clean it up. With trump it isn't hearsay about an event that isn't even sexual, with trump there is literally photographic evidence.

If this gentlemen has pictures I am all for seeing them.

zach miller

why are you defending trump if you are a supposed democrat anyway.

almost like you are a liar first. everything else comes second.

Richard Reinders

That is because they are trying to be fair in their comments , put down the Kool aide it blinds you to the truth.

Mike Johnson

I'm not defending Trump, I merely said he was heavily criticized when he paid off his accusers, shouldn't this situation warrant equal treatment? I know, you don't believe any accuser that accuses your politicians. That's called political hypocrisy.

zach miller

I am all for seeing actual evidence of abuse as in Trumps cases, and not just a misinterpretation of an accident. That is consistency. Unlike you, who claims trump is innocent while saying grisham is guilty, and calling everyone else a hypocrite.

zach miller

funny how I make judgements about you based on the comments you leave and that is kool aid or something, but you just make up imaginary things about me to argue against just because advocating for genuine equality in america apparently means people can make up whatever they want about you. I believe the accuser and hope he can heal, I also think it sounds more like an accident where intent was misunderstood, and not that our governor is a predator. But if there is evidence to the contrary I hope even further justice and healing can be applied like it has already been done in this case.

Mike Johnson

"But if there is evidence to the contrary I hope even further justice and healing can be applied..." Indeed, I too hope some pictures exist here, that would be fun!

John Cook

62K? These days? That's a nuisance settlement.

Mike Johnson

That may not the be final total, they are paying by the monthly installment plan. But whatever happened here, sounds like lot of money for it.......hope it was worth it.

Ed Taylor

Happens all the time. Cheaper than going to court.

Katherine Martinez

I'll have a side of Wagyu beef with that.

Mike Johnson

Good to see some journalism at this paper, thanks for exposing this.

Prince Michael Jauregui

This story has made national news since yesterday.

By-the-way Dr. Johnson, do you recall my comment that you replied to on Sunday regarding my independent research on vaccines - and I exposed Johnson & Johnson?

Days later, the vaccine was halted nationally and my comment was removed. More indisputable confirmation for what I've taught for years: While the Fear of Almighty Yahweh is the beginning of Wisdom, Fear unto itself, is rarely a Godly-spirit. More indicative of the absence of God. Of course, I'm here to chew bubble-gum and kick wicked, U.S. "Government" a**. And, I'm fresh out of bubble gum.

Pablo Blarto

This is outrageous. This a serious issue. Whether a man or a woman does it, it’s totally unacceptable.

Mike Johnson

Interesting she used campaign cash for this, there was a push not long ago by Ds in Congress to stop this kind of thing and make members pay.....https://www.npr.org/2018/12/12/676209258/congress-to-make-members-pay-out-of-pocket-for-sexual-harassment-settlements

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