Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Roundhouse Roundup: Keeping Up With Congressional Expenses

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
December 3, 2009

If you ever wondered how much members of Congress spend maintaining their offices — and who and what they spend it on — that information just became much easier for the average citizen to track. For the first time, the U.S. House of Representatives this week published its quarterly log of expenditures by all members — salaries, travel, office equipment, rent and other expenses for district offices, postage and more.

You can find it at the official government site, in the form of large, rather unwieldy PDFs , or in a handy, dandy searchable database courtesy of The Sunlight Foundation .
Ben Ray Lujan, Dem
Think locally: According to the report, U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján of Santa Fe spent more than $337,000 on his office between June and September and $808,000 in the first nine months of the year. That seems like a lot, but it’s less than New Mexico’s other two congressmen. Martin Heinrich of Albuquerque spent more than $343,000 for the quarter and $908,000 for January through September, while Harry Teague of Hobbs spent more than $352,000 the last quarter and more than $899,000 as of the end of September.

The most expensive offices in Congress are those of Reps. Steve Kagen, D-Wisc., who spent $452,000 in the last quarter, Alan Grayson, D-Fla., who spent $449,000, and Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., who spent $445,000.

Luján’s biggest expense is salaries — $569,552 for 23 employees in the first nine months of the year. In that time period, he spent more than $56,000 on rent, utilities and other expenses for his six district offices here in New Mexico; more than $45,000 on printing; more than $36,000 on travel; nearly $35,000 on postage and more than $35,000 on “other services” including security systems and computer software.

Keep on the Sonny side: One name in Luján’s expense records caught my eye. Santa Fe contractor Sonny Otero is paid $3,295 a month for rent of Luján’s Santa Fe district office on St. Michael’s Drive.

Otero is a major financial supporter of Gov. Bill Richardson, and in 2006 he made $3.2 million on a controversial land deal with the state shortly after contributing $50,000 to Richardson’s re-election campaign. All involved have denied the land sale had anything to do with the campaign cash.

He’s also contributed some money to Luján. Otero and his wife gave Luján’s 2008 campaign a total of $5,850.

The space was previously used by former Rep. Tom Udall, who moved into former Sen. Pete Domenici’s old office downtown after being elected to the Senate. When Udall first began renting the St. Michael’s Drive office about 10 years ago, it was owned by the Molnar family, a spokeswoman said. Otero bought it later.

A spokeswoman for Udall said Wednesday that Luján set up shop in several of Udall’s old district offices “for both continuity and convenience for his constituents” and to save time and money.

Run Allen Run: Apparently Republican Allen Weh is taking the phrase “running for governor” literally. His campaign announced Wednesday that Weh will participate in the 10K Reindeer Run in Roswell this Saturday. In October, Weh ran the Duke City Marathon’s 5K race in Albuquerque.

Is this a not-too-subtle appeal to supporters of former Gov. Gary Johnson, who always seemed to be competing in events like this?

Weh, himself a lifelong long-distance runner, says it’s to make a pitch for healthy living. He’s a prostate cancer survivor who says promoting proper nutrition and exercise is a priority.
Cargo Cult: The recent death of former Gov. Bruce King has prompted me to re-reread his autobiography, Cowboy in The Roundhouse. In recent months, I’ve also read former Senate Majority Leader Fabian Chavez’s autobiography, Taking On Giants.

And this week I learned there’s another book in the works from another New Mexico politician who was a contemporary of King and Chavez — former Gov. David F. Cargo.

Veteran Albuquerque journalist Dennis Domrzalski posted on his Facebook page this week that he “Just finished the final edit of former New Mexico Gov. Dave Cargo’s memoir, Lonesome Dave.”

It will be published by Sunstone Press in Santa Fe, which also published King’s book.