Dem Gov Accused of Misusing Taxpayer Funds to Fight Sexual Assault Claim

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D., N.M.) / Getty Images
April 28, 2021

New Mexico's Democratic governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is under fire from top Republicans in the state for misusing taxpayer resources to push back on an accusation of sexual assault.

The top Republican in the state legislature is calling foul on Lujan Grisham for using her official staff to defend the governor against allegations that she grabbed a man's crotch when they were initially made in 2019. The same government spokeswoman who initially defended the governor against the allegation of sexual assault now says she cannot comment on the allegation because it's "not official state business."

Jim Townsend, the Republican leader in the New Mexico House of Representatives, says the new statement indicates a misuse of government resources by Lujan Grisham, who has since paid off her accuser with campaign resources.

"Governor Lujan Grisham used her official office press secretary to defend her in the face of allegations of sexual harassment and to discredit her alleged victim in 2019," Townsend told the Washington Free Beacon. "At face value, this looks like the clear misuse of taxpayer money by Michelle Lujan Grisham and raises even more questions about a serious issue filled with inconsistent statements and actions from the governor."

Lujan Grisham's government spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett told the press in December 2019 that the accusations made by campaign staffer James Hallinan were false, and offered the official government response to the allegations.

"Three other people who were in the room attest to the fact that what he says happened did not happen. It's not a he-said, she-said situation," Sackett told the press, adding in an official statement that Hallinan's accusations were "bizarre and slanderous."

Hallinan has now been paid at least $62,500 in settlement money by Lujan Grisham, according to filings from the governor's campaign, which was used for the payments. Sackett, who is still the governor's official spokeswoman, said earlier this month that "the state doesn't have any comment as this is not official state business."

Lujan Grisham's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Kendra Arnold, the executive director of the watchdog organization Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, told the Free Beacon that Sackett addressing campaign issues while in a government role raises questions.

"Government officials are not allowed to campaign or engage in political activities while serving in their taxpayer-funded role," Arnold said. "This is both to protect taxpayer funds and to ensure there isn't tacit government approval of a campaign or political issue."

Hallinan first accused Lujan Grisham of assault in a tweet on Christmas Day 2019. "A governor … is not above the law for her sexual and physical abuse of employees including (me!!!)," Hallinan wrote.

Hallinan says he was convinced not to come forward with his accusation by another government employee, Dominic Gabello, who at the time was working as Lujan Grisham's campaign manager.

It remains unclear whether Lujan Grisham will make any further payments to Hallinan. Her campaign has thus far made five monthly payments totaling $62,500.