Rep. Dow settles ethics complaint to end 'taxpayer-funded witch hunt'

·3 min read

Aug. 6—The state Ethics Commission unanimously approved a settlement Friday that resolves a complaint filed nearly two years ago against state Rep. Rebecca Dow, ending one of the most high-profile cases to go before the panel.

Under the settlement, Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, agreed to pay a $500 civil penalty for two violations of the Governmental Conduct Act that deal with legislators representing clients in front of state agencies.

In his investigative findings, Walker Boyd, the commission's general counsel, wrote Dow was being paid by AppleTree Educational Center, a faith-based early childhood education provider she founded in 1999, while representing the nonprofit before numerous state agencies.

The law prohibits legislators from representing "another person in any matter before a state agency, unless without compensation or for the benefit of a constituent," although there are exceptions.

Boyd cited consulting work invoices from Dow to AppleTree for meetings with cabinet secretaries and emails she signed using her legislative title.

Dow's Democratic opponent in the November 2020 House District 38 race, Karen Whitlock, filed a 385-page ethics complaint against Dow two months before the election.

Dow said Whitlock released the complaint to the public and used it in political attack ads.

"The complaint accused me of everything from identity fraud to stealing millions of public dollars for personal benefit," she said. "After 21 months of taxpayer-funded digging by the staff at the office of the ethics commission, none of the outlandish accusations turned out to be true."

But the commission was determined to go after her, Dow said.

"In an effort to justify their existence, the bureaucrats at the office of the ethics commission continued digging and have decided emails sent from my legislative account represented misconduct," she said. "I disagree, yet have decided to settle in order to end this taxpayer-funded witch hunt and allow the nonprofit I founded and still care deeply about to move forward with their mission of serving New Mexico families and children."

Boyd and Dow's attorney entered into settlement negotiations shortly before a July 20 hearing on the complaint.

"I recommend approval of the settlement, as you probably guess," Boyd told commission members.

Before the vote, Commissioner Stuart Bluestone noted the $500 civil penalty for the two violations is the maximum under the law.

In addition to the civil penalty, Dow also had to pay a $50-a-day fine totaling more than $4,000 until she appeared for a deposition.

After the vote, Chairman William Lang joked to Boyd about the long-running case.

"Walker, that'll free up a lot of your time now," Lang quipped, generating laughter.

In a separate vote, the commission also approved a settlement agreement stemming from a complaint against Republican Mark Ronchetti, who is running for governor. The complaint alleged Ronchetti's campaign committee failed to follow disclaimer obligations on two television commercials. Boyd said the first ad didn't air on TV and wasn't subject to the Campaign Reporting Act. The second ad did air on TV but Ronchetti "took steps to correct the issue as soon as it was alerted to the campaign," he said.

"The settlement agreement I reached with the candidate committee was a suspended $500 civil penalty, and it is suspended on condition that [Ronchetti's campaign committee] agrees to comply with the disclaimer obligations for televised candidate advertisements ... until the end of this year," Boyd said before the commission approved the agreement. That vote was unanimous, too.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.