New Mexico ethics commission to consider charges against Dow

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Jan. 11—The general counsel for the State Ethics Commission has recommended a public hearing to determine whether state Rep. Rebecca Dow, a GOP candidate for governor in the June primary, violated government conduct and financial disclosure rules in connection with her work for a nonprofit she founded.

A nearly 400-page report of findings filed Dec. 7 with the commission by attorney Walker Boyd says some allegations against Dow in a September 2020 complaint "are supported by probable cause."

Boyd's findings stem from a complaint filed by Karen Whitlock, Dow's Democratic opponent in the November 2020 House District 38 race. Whitlock had accused Dow of violating state conflict-of-interest and financial disclosure rules in seeking state grants for the nonprofit AppleTree Educational Center, a faith-based early childhood education provider Dow founded more than 20 years ago.

Dow and others said the commission determined most of Whitlock's allegations did not fall within its scope.

Boyd, however, says in his report he has questions about whether Dow accurately disclosed details about her position and salary with AppleTree. He also said there is evidence she may have used her legislative position to advocate for the nonprofit.

A hearing on Boyd's findings, which has not been scheduled, would be the first the State Ethics Commission has held since its inception two years ago.

Boyd's findings came just ahead of the 30-day legislative session, which starts Jan. 18. Dow, who is from Truth or Consequences, has served in the state House since 2017.

Boyd lays out two concerns regarding her 2020 financial disclosure statement — that she failed to say she was still working for Dow Technology, a for-profit she ran with her husband, and that she failed to report more than $5,000 in earnings from AppleTree in 2019.

The attorney's report includes an October interview with Dow in which she repeatedly says she never intended to mislead anyone about her position with AppleTree or Dow Technology. If anything, she said, she tended to "overreport" her possible earnings and wasn't sure whether to say she worked for AppleTree or Dow Technology in 2019 because she wasn't sure which one she would invoice for the limited earnings she had coming.

She said in that interview, as she has in the past, she stepped down from executive positions with AppleTree and became a volunteer consultant in January 2019.

When discussing her practice of using her legislative title when communicating with state agencies and others about AppleTree, she said she often refers to herself in emails and phone calls first as a state lawmaker and later as an advocate or former head of the nonprofit. Citing a few emails related to AppleTree in which she signed off as "Representative Dow," she said, "That's my title as an elected representative, and I usually reply in the way that they send the title to me. ... It wasn't to be unethical."

She repeated an allegation the accusations against her are political and that her "Democratic opponents have consistently looked for anything, any incident in AppleTree," to cast doubt on her.

Whitlock declined to comment on whether her complaint against Dow was politically motivated. "It's all about integrity and government," she said. "Fortunately, the ethics commission took it and ran with it. I appreciate that."

Dow could not be reached for comment. But in a Facebook post she wrote Saturday, she said, "Maybe it's just a coincidence that this was made public the same week the Republican County Convention process in which state delegates are selected to choose Republican nominees for governor started. For years the radical Democrats have tried to scare me out of running with bogus complaints. They haven't scared me yet. And they wont."

Her attorney, Lucas Williams of Roswell, did not return a call seeking comment.

Boyd's report says he offered to drop the investigation if Dow agreed to pay a $250 civil penalty and acknowledge her obligations in regard to representing clients before state agencies. She did not respond to the offer, he wrote. In his interview with her, Boyd asked why she declined to take advantage of the offer, but Williams advised her not to answer the question, and she did not.

The ethics commission is tasked with overseeing the state's laws on campaign finance, lobbying, financial disclosure and other areas of government conduct, including accusations of sexual harassment against a public official.

Sonny Haquani, a spokesman for the commission, said its hearing officer, former federal Judge Alan C. Torgerson, will set a date for the hearing after he reviews all the material related to the complaint.

Haquani said there is no deadline to schedule a hearing under the commission's rules.