On the surface, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver’s proposed changes to campaign finance reporting rules appear to be a wonky topic. But to some outspoken opponents it’s a free speech violation. Burly Cain, the New Mexico state director of Americans for Prosperity, compared the proposed changes to forcing an 80-year-old woman to “wear an armband to say what she believes on her arm.”
Officials with the secretary of state’s office say they are simply attempting to update outdated sections of the state’s Campaign Reporting Act that are no longer legally valid after high-profile court decisions. This includes the state law definition of “political committee,” which is broadly defined as two or more people who are “selected, appointed, chosen, associated, organized or operated primarily” for influencing an election or political convention. This definition was found to be “unconstitutionally broad” in New Mexico Youth Organized v. Herrera, a 2009 court case, according to Secretary of State Chief Information Officer Kari Fresquez.
The state Republican Party is targeting a liberal political action committee for donating directly to Democratic candidates in state legislative races. The Republican Party of New Mexico wrote a complaint to the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office citing donations from Enchantment PAC to Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, and Democrat Natalie Figueroa, who is challenging state House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, as “against New Mexico statutes” and “in clear violation of the law.”
Enchantment PAC, which is also funding liberal advocacy organizations like Organizing in the Land of Enchantment, gave $1,000 to Sanchez and $600 to Figueroa during the general election cycle. State law, however, does not address the type of spending the GOP cited in its complaint. Reached by phone, GOP spokesman Tucker Keene referred to the written complaint, which he said the party sent in the mail to the Secretary of State on Tuesday. “Independent expenditure committees are not supposed to spend directly to candidates, they’re required by law to be independent,” Keene said earlier in a statement.
Secretary of State Brad Winter cleared the Republican candidate seeking to fill his seat of six allegations filed against her in an ethics complaint last month. Those six allegations, filed by state Democratic Party Treasurer Robert Lara, accused candidate Nora Espinoza of multiple violations of the New Mexico Campaign Reporting Act. Lara, an attorney, previously told NM Political Report that he filed the ethics complaint as a private citizen and not on behalf of the Democratic Party. While Winter dismissed all of the allegations, his office did give guidance to Espinoza on addressing some issues. “Although we do not find any violations of the [Campaign Reporting] Act, the Espinoza campaign is cautioned to ensure that all campaign reports submitted in the future accurately reflect the name and purpose of all expenditures and in-kind contributions,” Winter wrote.
A former Bernalillo County commission candidate is accusing a political action committee that advertised against him of not disclosing the bulk of its funding in time to meet state guidelines. Adrián Pedroza, a community organizer who in June lost a Democratic primary bid for an open county commission seat, filed a campaign ethics complaint against New Mexico for New Mexicans PAC last week. The complaint, filed with the Secretary of State’s Office, alleges that the PAC violated state law by not properly disclosing nearly $35,000 of its funding until one month after the June 7 primary election. That money, the vast majority of which came from Western Albuquerque Land Holdings, encompassed more than half of the PAC’s $64,500 in donations during the election cycle. “It’s really about maintaining the integrity of the election and voters knowing whose contribution went to what and for what reasons,” Pedroza’s campaign manager Neri Holguin said in an interview.
While former state Rep. Sandra Jeff avoided ballot disqualification after a recent scuffle with the Secretary of State, several questions remain about possible discrepancies in previous campaign reports. The biggest question is the sudden disappearance of more than $27,000 in debt from her failed 2014 campaign for reelection to the state House of Representatives. In July 2014, Jeff reported a loan contribution of $26,720.82 from Gallagher & Kennedy, a law firm with offices in Santa Fe and Phoenix. A note next to the contribution reads, “Campaign Debt for legal fees incurred.”
Jeff continued to report this debt, plus an extra $1,200 that she loaned to herself, for the next six campaign reporting periods, marking a period of nearly two years. But on March 15 of this year, Jeff amended seven old campaign reports from the 2014 election cycle.