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Shooting the Messenger is a Mistake

Jim Scarantino broke a story yesterday on the New Mexico Watchdog Website about Lt. Governor Diane Denish’s misuse of federal funds that is getting a lot of attention:

Lt. Governor Diane Denish used $225,000 in federal funds to pay for a driver to shuttle her to meetings and press events, a contractor to take Christmas pictures and write Christmas cards, a lawyer to make hotel reservations, opinion polling and public relations services. The money was given to her for “various projects” by Governor Bill Richardson. The money came from unallocated federal fiscal stimulus funds transferred to the New Mexico treasury under the 2003 Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act.

The fact that yet another misuse of federal funds by this Administration has emerged is not particularly surprising. Actually, it would be surprising to find an administration department or official that was not misusing federal funds. Luckily, we do have the New Mexico Watchdog to look into these inappropriate use of taxpayer money since the the defrauders are seeking to render useless the one state agency that can help uncover other violations of the public trust:

The Legislature and governor reduced the general fund money appropriated to the auditor’s office by 14 percent earlier this year, telling the auditor to replace that money with other cash. Now, bills awaiting action from the governor would cut an additional 4 percent from the auditor’s budget and take $500,000 from the fund the state auditor is required to use to supplement its funding.

The loss of that $500,000 would amount to an 81 percent reduction in the so-called “audit fund” – the very fund the Legislature told the auditor earlier this year to use to make up for the 14 percent reduction in its general fund appropriation.

The sum of those budget reductions would plunge the Office of the State Auditor (OSA) – the agency charged with ensuring that state government isn’t plagued by fraud, waste and abuse — “into a budget crisis,” auditor spokeswoman Caroline Buerkle said.

Oh, I know we’re in a budget crisis. But, that is precisely why we should not be gutting the State Auditor’s office. The one office in state government that has of late actually been looking after the public interest. Want to know who is misspending our money? I’d suggest looking at those who are most eager to see the State Auditor budget cut.

Back to Lt. Governor Diane Denish’s problem. No, the problem is not the misuse of federal funds, the problem is, that in what has become the standard modus operandi of this Administration, Lt. Governor Diane Denish is attacking the messenger instead of owning the mistake and making an amends:

Denish’s office provided records to the Journal late Wednesday. The office also sent a statement from Denish chief of staff Joshua Rosen, saying, “The accusations made by this right-wing organization and advanced by Republican candidates for governor are reckless manipulations of the truth.

Ok, you can call Jim Scarantino a lot of things, but right-wing organization is not one of them:

In 2000, Jim co-chaired the McCain for President effort in New Mexico. In 2004, in protest of the administration of George W. Bush, Jim switched to the Democratic Party. Since then, he has continued to support the person he believes is the best candidate for the office, left the GOP. Jim is currently registered Independent, but reserves the right to register with either party to support the right person in a party primary.

Anti-establishment guy? Yes. Right-wing mouthpiece? Absolutely not. [A disclosure here… I get along well with Jim, but he has oscillated over the years between attacking me and making nice. We are currently in the making nice period.]

And, attacking the messenger instead of taking ownership is not the only mistake being made by Lt. Governor Denish:

Denish’s chief of staff, Joshua Rosen, said all the funds were spent for legitimate purposes. A list of talking points included in documents the office gave The New Mexican said, “The money that was given to this office under the federal act represented less than 1 percent given to the state.”

Talked about your mixed messages. First, they try to pretend there is nothing wrong with the misuse of funds, and then they try and minimize the size of the crime. Sorry folks, that’s just not going to fly. Just because this isn’t as bad as, say the fraud perpetrated by the former Secretary of State, doesn’t mean it isn’t just as wrong.

Lt. Governor Denish had an opportunity here, and she blew it. She could have shown leadership, owned the mistake and made it right. Instead, she did what this Administration always does, try to dodge the bullet and shift blame.