There’s plenty of imperfection and discrepancy when it comes to trying to figure out campaign finance data in New Mexico. A year ago, New Mexico In Depth reported how lobbyist contributions helped Republicans win the state House for the first time in 60 years. But NMID also pointed out that candidates don’t always report those contributions consistently. KOB-TV did a series outlining such discrepancies in campaign contribution reports by legislative leaders last November. The Secretary of State’s office clarified reporting requirements for lobbyists, and the Legislature passed a law aimed at improving reporting.
The Secretary of State’s office can’t pay the penalty after being unable to comply with an open records law related to allegations of voter fraud. Now, after another appeal lost by the Secretary of State, the tab is nearly $125,000 and Secretary of State Brad Winter says they can’t pay up. That news comes from a report in the Albuquerque Journal. The penalty for violating the state law dates back to Dianna Duran’s time as Secretary of State and a 2011 assertion that voter fraud was rampant in New Mexico. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico sought the documents from Duran’s office to back up the allegations but never received any.
Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence spent his Tuesday Albuquerque town hall defending the character of his party’s controversial presidential nominee in wake of constant negative headlines. So did a few other local Republicans who spoke at the event, including Congressman Steve Pearce and State House Majority Whip Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas. Pearce said he was won over during the Republican National Convention with a few “dramatic revelations of the character of Donald Trump.”
Among them was Trump’s “disarming and revealing” words about his evangelical Christian supporters. “He said, ‘I’m getting support from the evangelicals and I’m not sure I deserve it,’” Pearce said. “That’s what I am looking for in politicians who will be transparent.”
The months leading up to the general election show an increasing number of voters in New Mexico aligning themselves with a political party in the state rather than registering as independents. Democrats account for roughly half of registered voters, according to data from the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office. The other half splits among Republicans, minor parties and those who decline to state an affiliation. But since January the number of registered Democrats spiked by about five percentage points and the number of registered Republicans increased by roughly 4 percentage points. Minor parties also saw an increase in voter registration since the beginning of the year.
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.
The Secretary of State’s office fixed a problem in the state’s troubled campaign finance reporting system. NM Political Report confirmed the fix with a spokesman in the office on Thursday. SOS spokesman Ken Ortiz said the problems came in a rarely used part of the website and said it was, indeed, one that no one in the office had used. He said the problems had been fixed before work hours on Thursday. The problem in the coding caused it to appear on one section of the system that the candidate failed to list the required “purpose” for each of their campaign purchases.
In response to allegations of breaking campaign finance laws, Republican Secretary of State candidate Nora Espinoza said her accuser manipulated documents to create false accusations. Espinoza sent Secretary of State Brad Winter a four-page letter defending campaign finance reports she filed in 2016. These reports accounted for expenses and donations going back to last year. Espinoza, however, also accused Robert Lara, who filed the complaint last month, of falsifying documents in an attempt to attack her. “Mr. Lara created a form of his own design with his own headings and terminology which nowhere appear in statute.
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.”
A Secretary of State candidate is accusing her opponent of an ethics violation for campaign contributions in 2014 from PACs unconnected to the campaign. Nora Espinoza, the Republican candidate, says that Maggie Toulouse Oliver, the Democrat, violated ethics rules when a donation from Verde Voters PAC paid money to another PAC, SOS for Democracy, earmarked for “TV ad buy–Maggie Toulouse Oliver.”
Both PACs are unconnected to the Toulouse Oliver campaign. The PAC-to-PAC donation happened during Toulouse Oliver’s first unsuccessful run for Secretary of State. Zach Cook, an attorney and state representative representing Espinoza’s campaign, wrote a complaint to the Secretary of State saying that state law says the PAC money transfer should be considered an in-kind donation to Toulouse Oliver’s campaign. Viki Harrison, the executive director of Common Cause New Mexico which advocates for campaign finance and ethics laws, said that this argument “just doesn’t make any sense.”
“The enforcement would be a nightmare because compliance would be impossible,” she said.
No time to rest after the primaries for some politicians. The day after Democrats and Republicans went to the polls to choose nominees for county, legislative, statewide and federal races, one statewide candidate is already announcing a “media blitz” of paid advertisements. Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced three new TV ads that will air on broadcast TV as well as cable and satellite for her Secretary of State campaign. Two ads are English-language and one is Spanish. The ads focus on ethics in politics—no surprise since the last Secretary of State went to jail for misusing campaign funds.