2-14 Vigil-Giron In Crossfire
By JAY MILLER
SANTA FE -- The Secretary of State's Office promises to be a very busy place for the next several weeks. In addition to registering lobbyists and processing their expense reports, the place will be overrun with auditors.
No fewer than six different agencies have been asked to look at former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron's books and determine why they are about $3 million out of balance.
A week or so ago Vigil-Giron was sitting on top of the world. She was just completing her third four-year term as secretary of state. That's the longest anyone has served in the position.
She recently completed a term as president of the National Association of Secretaries of State -- the first Hispanic to hold that office. And she had been a leading architect of the federal election reform act.
To top it off, she was moving right into another high-paying job as director of the newly-created Film Museum. That appointment came from Gov. Bill Richardson. Life couldn't be better.
But then newly-elected Secretary of State Mary Herrera asked the state auditor to do an audit of the office's books immediately instead of waiting until the end of the fiscal year. Newly-elected auditor Hector Balderas responded that it seemed to be a legitimate request.
No one around the Capitol was especially surprised at the request. Herrera and Vigil-Giron are not the greatest of friends. Herrera suspected she'd been left with about a $225,000 deficit. Vigil-Giron responded that she'd left a surplus and if Herrera had a brain she'd understand.
But then Vigil-Giron went to the Legislative Finance Committee in December with a $3 million supplemental budget request to keep the agency afloat through June 30 of this year.
The money was to cover unpaid expenses for printing ballots, constitutional amendments and bond issue questions, media ads and supplies. It also included an $800,000 request to pay a "surprise" billing from a Nebraska company that provided software upgrades for new ballot counting devices.
So Herrera asked the state Department of Finance and Administration to audit those expenditures. She also asked the federal government to come audit $9 million in federal election funds that have come to the state. The feds are now on site.
Senate Republican leaders then added their voice to the concern over Vigil-Giron's budget shortfall, asking the Legislative Finance Committee and Attorney General Gary King to look into the situation.
The GOP senators are faced with a bit of a dilemma. Except for the federal auditors, anyone they can ask for an independent audit is a Democrat official. Since the secretary of state is separately elected, that puts a little distance between the office and the auditing agency.
But who might have the most distance from Vigil-Giron? It appears the Republicans have decided on Attorney General King, who has had his differences with Gov. Richardson.
To add to Vigil-Giron's grief, Sen. Shannon Robinson announced he is withdrawing as sponsor of a governor's bill creating a Department of Media Arts and Entertainment because of Richardson's appointment of Vigil-Giron to the Film Museum position when she has no background in the film industry.
Gov. Richardson countered by putting Vigil-Giron's appointment on hold and asking the state Department of Finance and Administration to audit her former office.
Vigil-Giron says she has done nothing wrong. She was merely carrying out the law and wasn't given sufficient money to do it. She says $4 million dollars disappeared at the last minute from her appropriation by the 2006 Legislature and she has since asked for the rest of that money.
As for her qualifications for the Film Museum job, she says she watches a lot of movies.
Meanwhile, auditors from five different agencies will be climbing all over each other in the secretary of state's office in a scene likely reminiscent of the Keystone Kops.
JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail) firstname.lastname@example.org