August 20, 2019

State agency says political parties can’t hold raffles

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A northern New Mexico county political party last week learned they could not raffle off a long-range rifle during a fundraising dinner this fall. But it’s not because of the gun, according to the state department that oversees gambling events like bingo and raffles. 

Earlier this month, an agent with the New Mexico Gaming Control Board told members of the Los Alamos Republican Party they would have to cancel their scheduled raffle and refund all of the ticket sales. On its surface, it may seem that the raffle was cancelled because of the grand prize, but the Gaming Control Board said it’s simply because political parties don’t qualify under state law to have raffles. 

Not a ‘qualified organization’ 

On August 6, Gaming Control Special Agent Robert Zajac told Los Alamos Republican Party Chairman Bill McKerley in an email that the party did not qualify to hold a raffle. 

“Upon a review of the Los Alamos GOP, it does not fall under the definition of a ‘qualified organization,’” Zajac wrote. 

In an email days later, Zajac’s boss, Commander Terry McGaha responded to concerns from the Los Alamos GOP that they did indeed fall into the “qualified organization” category.

“Based on state law as a whole, it does not appear that a political organization or a political committee meets the statutory definition for being qualified as a civic or service organization,” McGaha wrote. “Since the Bingo and Raffle act has not included political organizations as a permissible category of nonprofit organizations that are permitted to conduct games of chance under the Bingo and Raffle Act, we must insist that you immediately cease and desist from further sales or activity with respect to the raffle you are currently conducting.”

New Mexico Republican Party Vice-Chair of the 3rd Congressional District Anise Golden-Morper told NM Political Report that the party is still considering their options, and that they hope the issue is just about the raffle, not the rifle. 

“We hope that this is not an attempt to control the citizens to freely purchase a raffle ticket that involves a rifle,” Golden-Morper said.  

Richard Kottenstette, a spokesman for the Gaming Board, said the county party’s giveaway was shut down simply because they’re not qualified to hold a raffle. 

“The gun’s not the issue,” Kottenstette said. “We’re just interested in the gambling portion.”

But, searches through campaign finance reports show numerous contributions to both local Democratic and Republican Party chapters for raffle tickets. Kottenstette said he knows raffles like these happen often and even though he scours the internet for illegal gambling operations, he can’t find them all and likened the issue to drivers who drive over the speed limit. 

“It’s really about who gets caught,” Kottenstette said. 

In this case, he added, the Gaming Board received an anonymous tip on it’s tip line. 

Not the first time

In 2016, the Democratic Party of New Mexico called out a Republican group for raffling off a pistol, shortly after a deadly, mass shooting at an Orlando, Florida nightclub. The Republican Party of New Mexico was not part of that raffle, but the group’s leaders criticized Democrats for focusing too much on the fact that a gun was used in the shooting and not the shooter’s motive. It is widely believed that the shooter sympathised with the terrorist group ISIS. 

That raffle continued even after the criticism and media reports.The gun that the Los Alamos Republican Party planned to auction off this year is a bolt-action, precision rifle used for long distances and retails for about $1,500. The raffle was called “The Bitter Clinger’s Raffle,” a tongue-in-cheek reference to a speech from former President Barack Obama when he was running for his first term. Other prizes included memberships to the National Rifle Association and a local shooting club, automobile detailing and Bibles. According to Golden-Morper, the winner of the gun would have had to submit to a background check through the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.