July 26, 2016

Complaint says Espinoza violated campaign finance rules

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A campaign finance complaint filed against New Mexico Secretary of State hopeful Nora Espinoza alleges a handful of violations including improperly reporting expenditures and contributions.

State Rep. Nora Espinoza

State Rep. Nora Espinoza

Democratic Party of New Mexico treasurer Robert Lara filed the complaint last week but the complaint was only made public on Monday.

The complaint lists multiple instances of Espinoza, who is finishing out her term as a Republican state representative, paying off credit card bills with her campaign fund as well as paying organizations without listing what was paid for. Lara also wrote in the complaint that Espinoza also failed to report an in kind contribution by Rep. Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso, for his services. The instances of alleged violations date back to before Espinoza announced her intention to run for Secretary of State.

Lara told NM Political Report that he filed the complaint as a private citizen and not as an officer of the Democratic Party.

“I’m not coordinating,” Lara said.

In his assertion that Cook performed work for Espinoza, Lara pointed to a complaint filed by Cook against Democratic Secretary of State Candidate Maggie Toulouse Oliver. In Cook’s initial complaint he alleged that a donation from one political action committee to another should have been considered an in-kind contribution and was not properly reported. Toulouse Oliver called the complaint “baseless.” Cook’s complaint never stated that it was on behalf of Espinoza or her campaign.

In a voicemail to NM Political Report, Cook said he filed the complaint against Toulouse Oliver on his own.

“I did not file a complaint on behalf of Rep. Espinoza or anybody else,” Cook said. “I wrote it for myself on my own legal letterhead.”

Espinoza did not responded to email or phone calls seeking comment. Her response will be added when we receive it.

Lara told NM Political Report that Espinoza’s practice of paying credit card bills with campaign funds looks suspicious.

“If you want to hide stuff that’s how you do it,” Lara said.

While Lara maintained that his complaint was not on behalf of Toulouse Oliver, he openly admitted he supported her candidacy for Secretary of State.

“Maggie knows what she’s doing and Nora doesn’t and it shows,” Lara said.

Lara’s complaint also included an instance of Espinoza’s campaign paying almost $90 to AT&T for “business.” Lara wrote that expenditures should only be used for campaign expenses.

“The listing of this expense as a business expense and not a specific campaign expenditure indicates this expense was used to benefit the Representative personally and not a legitimate expense under the act,” Lara wrote.

Lara told NM Political Report that without explicitly detailing expenses, candidates like Espinoza may be trying to hide something.

“Are those calls being made to pick up her dry cleaning or for her campaign?” Lara asked of some of the expenditures.

Espinoza’s reports also included more that $9,000 paid to Perez & Associates and NM Demographic Research without any mention of what was paid for.

“I don’t know if Nora’s paying market price, I don’t know if she’s paying a special Nora price,” Lara said.

The New Mexico Democratic Party of New Mexico released a statement admonishing Espinoza and compared her reporting to actions of former Secretary of State Dianna Duran who pleaded guilty to illegally spending her campaign funds.

“Dianna Duran went to jail for playing shell games with campaign money and now Nora Espinoza has been caught hiding information about her expenses and her donors,” wrote Chairwoman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico Debra Haaland.

To compound the issue, the secretary of state no longer has in-house legal counsel after Amy Bailey left to work in the private industry. A spokesman for the office recently told NM Political Report that all legal matters would be referred to the New Mexico Attorney General’s office.

A representative of the secretary’s office could not be reached for clarification on whether this complaint would be referred to the AG’s office or dealt with internally.

Espinoza still has until early next month to write a written response to the Secretary of State’s office. This is the second complaint filed against Espinoza since she announced her candidacy for secretary of state.

In January, Haaland filed a complaint against Espinoza for using the legislative website to promote her campaign. The secretary of state’s office found Espinoza did not violate campaign laws by directing supporters to the legislative website to inquire about helping with nomination petitions.

Update (10:45 a.m., 7/27): Added a quote from Representative Zach Cook