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Candidates Could Face Tighter Spending Rules

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Under Espinoza's measure, candidates would not be allowed to use campaign money for things like gym memberships.

A state House panel on Tuesday approved a bill that would give political candidates and elected officials clearer guidelines on how they can spend money from their campaign accounts. It's been an embarrassing problem for the state.

Over the years elected officials in New Mexico have used campaign money to buy new cars, fix up old cars and buy tires. One spent donations on massages, and another used the money on septic service for his house. One candidate spent public financing money to pay himself to campaign.

New Mexico failed an investigation of its campaign finance practices by the Center for Public Integrity, in part because the state has not adequately ensured that candidates aren't using campaign money for personal expenses.

The bill's sponsor, State Rep. Nora Espinoza, R-Roswell, says some of these are honest mistakes.

"We have seen in the past people going out and buying stuff that really doesn’t have to do with being a state senator or representative," Espinoza said, "and I think we just need to clarify that so there’s never a misunderstanding."

The proposal originally included two pages of definitions of acceptable expenses, but another House committee cut them, choosing to focus more on things that aren't okay, like clothing, shoes, manicures and pedicures, eyeglasses and gym memberships. 

The bill's next stop is the House floor. From there it will have to sprint through the Senate in order to gain approval by Thursday. 

Check out all of the content from our People, Power and Democracy project online at KUNM.org. It's a collaboration between KUNM, New Mexico In DepthNew Mexico PBS and the New Mexico News Port at UNM. Funding for the project comes from the Thornburg Foundation.

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