The Secretary of State campaign of Maggie Toulouse Oliver responded to a complaint from her Republican opponent over campaign finance donations from PACs unrelated to Toulouse Oliver’s campaign.
The Democrat’s campaign says the complaint is baseless and a political ploy by Nora Espinoza’s campaign.
“The complaint against Maggie Toulouse Oliver is completely baseless and politically motivated,” Toulouse Oliver campaign manager Alan Packman said in a statement. “This complaint is about a PAC-to-PAC contribution and has nothing to do with Maggie Toulouse Oliver’s campaign committee for secretary of state. Republicans are falsely attacking Maggie because they are trying to cover up the corrupt legacy of Republican former Secretary of State Dianna Duran who pleaded guilty to corruption charges.”
The complaints actually referred to a 2014 donation from Verde Voters PAC, which is associated with Conservation Voters New Mexico, to SOS for Democracy. Toulouse Oliver’s campaign was not associated at all, except a note on the donation said, “TV ad buy–Maggie Toulouse Oliver.”
Rep. Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso, wrote the original complaint to the Secretary of State and forwarded a copy to the state Attorney General on behalf of Espinoza’s campaign. He argued the donation from one PAC to another should be considered an in-kind donation to Toulouse Oliver’s campaign.
The Toulouse Oliver campaign called the allegations “frivolous” and “clearly politically motivated.”
“The ground upon which Rep. Cook bases his complaint is absurd,” attorney Karen Mendenhall*, wrote for the Toulouse Oliver campaign in her response. “His complaint demonstrates that he is ignorant of established policies and the law regarding the difference between an independent expenditure and a coordinated communication. Or it demonstrates that he his feigning ignorance for the sole purpose of generating negative publicity about Ms. Toulouse Oliver.”
Mendenhall noted that in Republican Party of New Mexico , et al v. Gary King, a federal court addressed some of the complaints made by Cook, and that publications by the Secretary of State address the issue of whether or not the donation from Verde Voters PAC could be considered an independent expenditure.
She also said that Zach Cook falsely called Verde Voters PAC a “dark money” group, referring to groups that do not have to reveal donors. As a PAC, Verde Voters PAC must regularly disclose contributors.
“Again, either Rep. Cook is misusing provocative terms for an improper political purpose or he is ignorant of the facts,” Mendenhall wrote.
The full letter is available below.
When reporting on the original complaint, NM Political Report spoke to Viki Harrison, the executive director of Common Cause New Mexico. Her organization advocates for strengthening campaign finance laws, among other things.
She said that if Espinoza’s complaint was valid, “The enforcement would be a nightmare because compliance would be impossible. You don’t know what other people are doing.”
Even though none of the money went to Toulouse Oliver’s campaign or any PACs legally allowed to coordinate with her campaign, Espinoza accused Toulouse Oliver of “accepting illegal contributions and failing to report them.”
If Espinoza were to win the election this November and become Secretary of State, she would be in charge of enforcement of campaign finance laws.
*Karen Mendenhall has given legal advice to NM Political Report in the past.
Response to MTO Ethics Complaint 07-11-16 by New Mexico Political Report on Scribd