Annual review of campaign finances resumes in New Mexico

October 8, 2021 GMT

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — After a four-year hiatus, state election regulators have resumed spot-checks on campaign finance disclosures by politicians, election candidates and political committees, with 10 accounts referred to New Mexico’s fledgling State Ethics Commission and state prosecutors for possible enforcement action.

The random sampling of campaign finance disclosures from the 2020 general election cycle taps into a newly deployed electronic campaign finance reporting system at the secretary of state’s office that reconciles an intricate web of campaign contributions, transfers and expenditures.

State law requires an annual sampling of 10% of accounts, triggering a review of roughly 110 accounts. Results were published Friday. Regulators attributed the hiatus in part to scarce resources.

Alleged violations included groups receiving contributions from unidentified sources and failing to register as political committees.

In addition to the 10 referrals, six committees or candidates are currently working to resolve discrepancies with the secretary of state’s office. The agency focuses on education and voluntary compliance.

State Elections Director Mandy Vigil, who oversaw the campaign finance review, says politicians and committee treasurers have new opportunities and tools at their disposal to quickly clarify and reconcile possible violations of the state Campaign Reporting Act. An internet dashboard alerts possible violations in real time as reports are filled out online.

The Campaign Reporting Act includes political contribution limits, currently set at $5,200 for what candidates or committees can accept. Political committees can make contributions of up to $5,200.

The regulatory review of 2020 campaign finance records extends to political committees that engage in independent expenditures — a consequence of 2019 legislation that called for financial disclosures by some so-called dark money groups that operate on the periphery of coordinated political campaigning.

Among them, Enchantment PAC resolved an initial concern about incomplete reporting of independent expenditures. The committee is affiliated with the progressive advocacy group OLÉ.

Lingering campaign accounts linked to deceased and disgraced politicians also were flagged for discrepancies and referred for possible enforcement.

Fines for late-filed campaign finance disclosures are stacking up against former state Sen. Phil Griego and his campaign account that still holds a balance of more than $40,000. Griego completed a 15-month prison stay in 2019 linked to convictions for fraud, bribery and ethical violations after using his position as a state senator to profit from the sale of a state-owned building.

A political account for former Democratic state Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, who died in 2017, has been flagged for enforcement on discrepancies about payments.

The account, managed by a relative, disbursed $2,500 in May to the political campaign of Santa Fe mayoral candidate Joane Vigil Coppler and reported a balance of roughly $15,200. It no longer accepts contributions.

Vigil Coppler is challenging incumbent Mayor Alan Webber in a three-way race that concludes Nov. 2.