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.
A new political action committee of unknown origins inserted itself into a hotly-contested Bernalillo County Commission race with a decidedly nasty mailer the day before the primary election. The mailer, from a PAC called “Committee for the Truth District #2,” aggressively attacks candidates Adrián Pedroza and Steven Michael Quezada while ending with the phrase, “MAY THE LORD GUIDE YOUR VOTE!!!”
Pedroza and Quezada are vying, along with Robert Chavez, in this week’s primary for the Democratic Party nomination for the seat currently held by Art De La Cruz, who is term-limited and cannot run again. It’s unclear who is behind “Committee for the Truth District #2.” The mailer lists John Davis as treasurer. NM Political Report is choosing to not run pictures of the mailer because of at least two demonstrably false claims written on it, which we will not publish here. When NM Political Report called the phone number that the PAC left with the business that printed the mailer, a person on the other line said, “Wrong number,” and quickly hung up.
Democratic Secretary of State candidate Maggie Toulouse Oliver leads in the latest campaign finance reports, though her Republican opponent Nora Espinoza closes the period out with more cash in her campaign account. The primary takes place next Tuesday. Toulouse Oliver raised nearly $59,590 during the latest period, which covers most of May, nearly doubling Espinoza’s $29,807. She also spent $46,858 during the same period, the bulk of her expenses going to Full Arsenal Strategies, the strategy firm that is managing her campaign. Toulouse Oliver currently reports $125,030 in the bank.
The Secretary of State’s office has chronic under budgeting resulting in a regular need for emergency loans, grants and special appropriations just to fulfill one of the office’s key functions: running elections. That’s the news from an audit recently released by State Auditor Tim Keller. “Repeatedly using emergency funding mechanisms for routine, regularly scheduled elections runs against commonsense budgeting principles,” Keller said in a statement. “We know we are going to have elections, we know when we’re going to have them, and we know generally how much they cost. There is no need to use band aids [sic] year after year.”
Secretary of State Brad Winter told NM Political Report while he can’t speak to the past, he believes the problem stems under-funding, not under-budgeting.
Though this year’s general election is still six months away, several elections across the state will only be decided in primaries, which will be held June 7. For people not already registered to vote, today is the last day to do so, which they can do in person at their county clerk’s office or the Secretary of State’s Office. Absentee voting also begins today, as does voting in person at county clerks’ offices throughout the state. Because New Mexico is a closed primary state, today is the last day for the 19 percent of registered declined-to-state voters to update their registration to either Democrat or Republican if they want to vote in next month’s primaries. Anybody who changes their registration to Democrat or Republican online by 5pm today will be eligible to vote June 7.
The Secretary of State’s office told county clerks that some 17-year olds will be able to vote in the upcoming primary elections. The Secretary of State’s office sent an email to county clerks last week informing them of the new procedure for these voters. The only 17-year olds who will be eligible to vote in the primaries are those who will turn 18 before the November 8 general elections. The Secretary of State said the decision came “after consultation with the Attorney General.” NMPolitics.net first reported on the email.
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.
Former state Rep. Sandra Jeff will make it on the ballot for state Senate this upcoming primary election in June after all. Jeff came to an agreement with the Secretary of State’s Office on Monday—nearly three weeks after that office disqualified her from the ballot for not paying a fine for filing a late campaign finance report from an earlier campaign. Jeff, a Democrat, is challenging Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo, for the party nomination this year. Her attorney Zach Cook told NM Political Report that she agreed to pay “a nominal amount” of roughly $100 to the Secretary of State’s Office to get on the ballot. Part of the deal involves Jeff not having to concede that the fine was legitimate.