- Associated Press - Thursday, March 1, 2018

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - A fund used by New Mexico’s governor for social obligations will receive more scrutiny under legislation signed Thursday.

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez signed a bill that will allow the so-called contingency fund to be audited and automatically return unused money each year to the state general fund.

The new rules take effect after Martinez leaves office at the end of the year after two terms.

The state currently supplies the contingency fund with $72,000 a year - money that is used at the governor’s discretion on dinners and receptions, along with gifts for protocol meetings or spending on gestures of condolence or congratulations.

The basic arrangement dates back more than a century.

Accounting practices have come under criticism in recent years for providing scant details about actual spending.

The contingency fund has been kept in a separate bank account that is not included in the balance sheet of the governor’s office - and has not been subject to audit, according to a 2016 report form the State Auditor’s Office. It said the practices run counter to basic notions of transparency and accountability in government.

Martinez has defended her handling of the fund, noting that her office published quarterly summaries when the law only requires an annual report and that she reduced appropriations from $90,000 under the previous administration. Her office has declined requests to provide details of specific expenditures.

Republican state Sen. Sander Rue of Albuquerque seized on the transition to a new administration at the end of the year to push through the bill aimed at providing more information on spending from the contingency fund.

Future governors will have to submit an itemized list of expenditures each month to a legislative committee and the Department of Finance and Administration.

Martinez said in a written message that the fund will soon fall under the state open records act.

“The people of New Mexico deserve to know how the governor is spending taxpayer money,” she wrote.

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