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Senators violated fundraising ban, secretary of state says

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It’s against the law for state legislators or their agents to solicit political donations while the Legislature is in session.

Because of the ban, two senators running for governor and a third senator campaigning for state auditor removed or disabled links on their websites that allowed users to make political donations.

Still, all three have run afoul of the fundraising prohibition that began Jan. 1 and ends with the Legislature’s adjournment Feb. 20, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

The senators – gubernatorial hopefuls Linda Lopez and Howie Morales, and auditor candidate Tim Keller – said there was no intent to violate the law and that they moved immediately to address the issues when notified.

Here’s what happened:

In response to an inquiry from me, the Secretary of State’s Office said a posting from Lopez on her website violated the prohibition on soliciting political donations during the session.

In the posting, Lopez wrote she was prohibited from soliciting contributions during the session. She said supporters could make online donations or mail them to the campaign.

KELLER: Asked ActBlue to take page down

KELLER: Asked ActBlue to take page down

Lopez said she wrote the posting before the start of the fundraising prohibition on Jan. 1 and said it was a final attempt before the prohibited period to raise money for her campaign. The Secretary of State’s Office said the posting was a violation because it remained on the website after Jan. 1.

The donation button at the top of Lopez’s Web page was disabled, but the Secretary of State’s Office found the fundraising prohibition had been violated because a much smaller donation link at the bottom of the page hadn’t been disabled or removed. That link took users to a donation page for Lopez on the website of ActBlue, a political committee based in Massachusetts that collects political contributions on behalf of candidates, then distributes them to campaigns.

Within hours of Lopez’s being notified of the alleged violations by the Secretary of State’s Office, the ActBlue link had been removed and the Lopez posting had been amended to exclude the information that supporters could make contributions online or via mail. The donation page on ActBlue was also deactivated.

“It was not intentional,” Lopez, D-Albuquerque, told me Wednesday. “It’s a learning process.”

LOPEZ: "It was not intentional"

LOPEZ: “It was not intentional”

Again in response to inquiries from me, the Secretary of State’s Office said live donation pages on ActBlue for Morales and Keller were also violations of the session fundraising prohibition.

Morales, D-Silver City, and Keller, D-Albuquerque, said Wednesday that they had asked ActBlue before the start of the fundraising prohibition to deactivate the donation pages but that it had failed to do so.

The campaigns contacted ActBlue immediately after I told Morales and Keller of the live pages and the pages were deactivated.

The Secretary of State’s Office – charged with seeking voluntary compliance with the fundraising prohibition – asked the three senators to respond in writing to the alleged violations.

Over the past several years, in large part because of increased use of the Internet, there have been repeated questions about compliance by legislators with the session fundraising prohibition.

MORALES: Page on ActBlue now deactivated

MORALES: Page on ActBlue now deactivated

Many of those questions have arisen because donation pages for lawmakers have at times been left live on ActBlue during sessions.

Governors are also subject to the session fundraising prohibition, and a question arose in 2011 about whether Gov. Susana Martinez’s political action committee, Susana PAC, had violated the fundraising prohibition by leaving a donation link on its website during a special session of the Legislature.

The link was removed shortly after I inquired about it, although the Secretary of State’s Office hadn’t made a final decision on whether the fundraising prohibition had been violated.

Martinez political adviser Jay McCleskey said the link was inadvertently left up and was removed out of an abundance of caution.

Currently, there are no live donation links on the websites of Martinez’s re-election committee or Susana PAC, but a Google search for “donate to Susana Martinez” turned up a donation page on Piryx, which provides a service similar to that of ActBlue.

McCleskey said Thursday that the page doesn’t belong to the Martinez campaign or Susana PAC and that they have no control over the page.

Archived or cached contribution pages for legislators and the governor can also be found on the Internet, but the Secretary of State’s Office said it recognizes that it’s impossible for campaigns to remove all old pages from the Web.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Thom Cole at tcole@abqjournal.com or 505-992-6280 in Santa Fe. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

 

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