4 Investigates: Lt. Gov. Sanchez pocketed $43K of campaign cash; ethics questioned | KOB 4
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4 Investigates: Lt. Gov. Sanchez pocketed $43K of campaign cash; ethics questioned

Ryan Luby
April 21, 2016 10:23 PM

Wouldn't it be nice if other people paid your rent?  What a deal that would be.  New Mexico Lieutenant Governor John Sanchez did just that and is now the subject of questions about his ethics.

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The 4 Investigates team analyzed the rent payments Sanchez reported for a campaign office during the most recent election and learned it's in an industrial building he owns.

The building is also the home of his family's longtime roofing business, Right Way Roofing, near 1st Street NW and Aspen Avenue NW in a heavily industrialized area of Albuquerque.

According to campaign finance data maintained by the New Mexico Secretary of State's office, Sanchez received $43,000 in rent payments -- initially $1,500 per month, followed by an increase to $2,000 per month -- from January 2013 through November 2014.  The data show his campaign paid him $3,000 for rent in 2011.

The building space is 5,000 square feet -- 1,200 square feet for an office and 3,800 square feet for a warehouse, according to commercial real estate listings and information maintained by the Bernalillo County Assessor.

Sanchez said he used the 1,200-square-foot office to organize and raise funds for his portion of the 2014 gubernatorial campaign, in which he ran unopposed in the 2014 primary election for lieutenant governor and rode the coattails of Governor Susana Martinez into a victory during the 2014 general election.

"I don't believe that it was excessive," Sanchez said in an interview with 4 Investigates on Tuesday. "When you factor everything in -- both the rent and the fact that it was a turnkey operation -- just the opposite, Ryan. We believe it was money well-spent."

On camera, he confirmed he owned the building then and now.  4 Investigates requested his financial disclosures through a public records request to the Secretary of State's office, which list the warehouse as his property.

"When you look at what other people are spending, it's nowhere near that [amount]," Viki Harrison, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico said.  The organization champions open and ethical government.

She reacted to an analysis of the campaign finance data conducted by the 4 Investigates team.  It shows Sanchez paid more for rent than any other candidate who's ever reported campaign office rent expenses to the Secretary of State in the last decade.

The analysis shows Governor Susana Martinez paid roughly $27,000 in rent for several campaign offices across New Mexico during the 2014 election.  Gary King reported expenses of roughly $39,000.

Martinez's campaign office rent expenses for the 2014 election began in March 2014 and ended in November 2014.  King's began in May 2013 and ended in October 2014.

Lieutenant Governor candidate Debra Haaland did not report any campaign office rent expenses, according to the data.

There's no indication in the campaign finance data that any candidate -- including King and Martinez -- has rented campaign office space in a property they own.

To view and download raw campaign finance data maintained by the New Mexico Secretary of State's office, click here.

Harrison said it's critical for candidates to spend campaign money frugally.  She said campaign donors deserve and expect that.

"Think about how many individual donors across the state may have written a $25 check so [Sanchez] could become lieutenant governor and that just gets swallowed up in this huge payment to himself," Harrison said.

Sanchez said he does not see any conflict of interest in what he did.

"Not at all," he said.  "Because the fact that we disclosed it. If I was trying to hide something, we wouldn't have reported it."

Sanchez justified the rent payments because he said the warehouse office was fully furnished, included utilities, parking and security, is near Interstate 40 and is easy to locate.

4 Investigates did a simple search of commercial real estate listings in the Albuquerque metropolitan area through the website operated by the Commercial Association of Realtors New Mexico, or CARNM.  Rental prices can vary based on rates per square foot, but numerous office properties are available for less than what Sanchez paid himself.

For instance, a 1,203-square-foot suite inside a building at 610 Gold Avenue SW in downtown Albuquerque costs $15 per square foot.  The monthly rent would add up to $1,503.75.  It includes all utilities, a building security alarm, and 5-night janitorial service, according to the CARNM listing.

According to LoopNet, a heavily trafficked commercial real estate website in the United States, rental prices for office space have fluctuated in Albuquerque, but they're currently about the same as they were two years ago.

Sanchez said he based his office rental rate -- $18 per square foot -- on an appraisal he said NAI Maestas & Ward conducted for him in September 2013, the commercial real estate broker he's currently using to list the property today.  It valued the office space at $21,600 annually or $1,800 per month.

The appraisal accounted for the furniture, free parking, internet, phones, trash pickup and use of office equipment apparently covered by Right Way Roofing or sister company R&R Solutions. It valued those items at $500 per month or $6,000 per year. 

Sanchez's campaign treasurer said they tacked on an additional $200 per month for janitorial services in the space, which resulted in the $2,000 per month rent.

4 Investigates noted Sanchez's dozens of campaign photos from 2013 and 2014 posted to his Facebook page from around New Mexico, but questioned why none of them show the supposed campaign office in Albuquerque.

"Well, I can reassure you and the people who are watching this that the campaign was used effectively," he explained on-camera. "I spent a bit of time, while I was in Albuquerque, using the campaign -- along with my supporters and volunteers -- making the necessary efforts to ensure that the Lieutenant Governor's portion of the ticket was successful and making sure that the Governor and I had a resounding victory in November of 2014."

On Monday, 4 Investigates asked Sanchez and his campaign treasurer to email photographs of campaign supporters using the campaign office, but so far they haven't.  They did, however, provide a copy of the lease agreements between Sanchez's campaign and the Sanchez family business.

Nonetheless, Sanchez believes the foundation of this story is rooted in "frivolous accusations."  He said he's done nothing illegal, which is true because there isn't a law that addresses what he did.

As for the ethics of the matter, Sanchez said he hasn't done anything wrong on that front either.

Luby: "Hindsight being 20/20, especially as we sit here in your [Capitol] office and you're answering these questions, would you do anything differently about this going forward? Would you have done anything differently going back?"

Sanchez: "Absolutely not. Absolutely not."

“Lt. Governor John Sanchez putting campaign money into his own pockets shows a basic disrespect for the New Mexicans who donated their hard-earned dollars to his campaign,” said Debra Haaland, Chairwoman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico and former candidate for Lt. Governor. “I’ve run for the office, and I know how important being frugal with campaign dollars is. Making every dollar count and ensuring you are using each donation with New Mexico in mind is so important. It’s clear that Lt. Governor Sanchez only had himself in mind when he decided to pay himself from his own campaign.”

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Ryan Luby

Copyright 2017 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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