September 17, 2015

Two more legislators under campaign finance microscope

Two more state representatives are facing scrutiny over their campaign finance reports following media reports.

Hands With CashState Representatives James Madalena, D-Jemez Pueblo, and Andy Nuñez, R-Hatch, are the latest to see their campaign finance reports be examined for alleged improprieties.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Madalena spent campaign funds “on surgery expenses, attire from a Nike factory store and to help a ‘needy family’ in his legislative district.”

Madalena told the newspaper that he is working on amending the reports.

But he also told the newspaper to look at the campaign finance reports of Nuñez, a Republican (who used to be a Democrat) in a key swing district. Madalena says the reports from the Hatch Republican showed “what appear to be thousands of dollars in overpayments to Rep. Andy Nunez for self-funded loans.”

The office of the Secretary of State will be reviewing the campaign finance reports according to the Santa Fe New Mexican.

The increased scrutiny on campaign finance reports—which first snagged Albuquerque Democrat Antonio “Moe” Maestas—comes after the Secretary of State herself is facing serious charges related to campaign finance.

Dianna Duran pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to 64 charges related to allegedly moving campaign funds to accounts she controlled. Duran also faces possible impeachment over the allegations.

The high profile problems with campaign finance reports are causing some to call for audits of all campaign finance reports, not just the ten percent as required by state law.

The Associated Press spoke to open government advocates, such as Common Cause New Mexico.

“They should get together right now and go through everybody’s reports — every statewide official and every legislator — and not rely on the public and the media to do that for them,” said Viki Harrison, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, a group that has been pushing for campaign finance reform. “This is important enough.”

New Mexico Political Report asked the Secretary of State’s office if this was feasible.

Spokesman Ken Ortiz said in an emailed statement that the office’s priority is on the “preparing for the upcoming presidential election, such as the calculating petition signature numbers and publishing the candidate guide on October 1, 2015.”

“With that said, staff is working on the campaign finance inquiries that have come to our attention,” he said.

But the records would have to be looked through manually and it would take a lot of time depending on how long the person has been in office and how extensive the campaign finance reports.

Duran had been criticized, especially by the Farmington Daily-Times, for her responses to campaign finance violations. The Secretary of State has the ability to waive fines for campaign finance violations.

The Daily-Times found earlier this year that over 60 percent of fines for campaign finance violations were never collected.

This led Attorney General Hector Balderas to recommend that Duran support changes in the law to require mandatory fines for campaign finance violations.

A spokesman for her office said that if Balderas believed such legislation would be helpful that he should support it himself.

Update: Added comments by Ken Ortiz.