Accountability report lags on campaign finance reporting
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico election regulators have not completed required spot checks for campaign-finance compliance amid escalating private spending on political campaigns and a shifting enforcement landscape, the secretary of state said Tuesday.
Maggie Toulouse Oliver attributed some of the delay to scarce resources at the agency she oversees.
Discrepancies or apparent violations that can’t be resolved readily are eventually forwarded to the attorney general for possible investigation. Starting in 2020, some referrals will be made to the newly created State Ethics Commission.
State Elections Director Mandy Vigil said Toulouse Oliver’s office is trying to hire additional staff to assist with the reviews.
She and Toulouse Oliver offered no firm date for completing the review of campaign finances from the 2018 election. They said a new online campaign finance information system will make the process more efficient when it starts in April 2020.
“I would just say that it’s taking a long time and it’s a direct result of the underfunded nature of our office and the lack of staffing,” Toulouse Oliver said.
She pledged support for changes to increase campaign finance disclosures and auditing when she first won statewide election in 2016.
Elected Democrats currently control every statewide elected office and hold legislative majorities in the state House and Senate.
State law requires a thorough examination each year of at least 10% of campaign finance reports for state and local candidates and committees, selected at random, following statewide elections and after April finance reporting deadlines in odd-numbered years.
The 2016 review for compliance with the state’s Campaign Reporting Act looked at 106 randomly selected candidates and political committees. It found an unregistered nonprofit that contributed to the campaign of the Republican House speaker, a prohibited gun raffle by the Republican Party of Luna County and improper campaign spending on a candidate’s clothing and a chiropractor.
A lengthy report on those discrepancies was a voluntary initiative, said Toulouse Oliver — and one her office plans to repeat in statewide election years.
Overdue reviews of campaign-finance complaints had piled up under former Secretary of State Dianna Duran, who resigned in 2015 before her conviction on embezzlement and money laundering charges after admitting she used campaign funds to fuel a gambling habit.
Republican Rep. Kelly Fajardo of Los Lunas downplayed the significance of spot checks by the Secretary of State’s Office, noting that campaign finance reports are combed through in competitive races by adversaries for potential violations.
“If there’s a red flag, it’s going to come out,” she said. “You have enough eyes on it.”
Starting Jan. 1, the secretary of state’s office will begin to share its jurisdiction over campaign finances with the seven-member State Ethics Commission.
Toulouse Oliver announced last week that her office is negotiating an agreement with the commission. The commission can petition a court to issue subpoenas, while the secretary of state has more limited investigative authority.
Changes to campaign finance law this year roughly doubled individual contribution limits in races for governor to $20,000 every four years and paved the way for legislative caucus committees that can accept five times as much money as candidates and political committees.