SANTA FE – New Mexico Attorney General Gary King said Monday that he plans to ask the state Supreme Court to resolve a disagreement with the secretary of state over several contributions to his campaign for governor.
Secretary of State Dianna Duran, a Republican who oversees state campaign finance reporting, has said the three donations exceeded the state’s contribution limits by a total of $10,900. In a letter sent last week, she told King to give up the money and deposit it into a public fund by next Monday.
However, King, a Democrat, has insisted the donations were lawful and said he will turn to the state’s highest court for a ruling.
King’s campaign has maintained the contributions in question were legal, in part because they were intended to help him pay off past campaign debt.
“I think we’ll have to take this case directly to the Supreme Court,” King told the Journal . “It’s certainly my intent to ask the court to make a decision.”
The current limit on a donation from an individual to a candidate for statewide office is $5,200 per primary and general election cycle.
King had reported receiving $10,400 each from Trudy and Ed Healy of Taos on June 25, more than three weeks after the June 3 primary election. He also reported receiving $5,700 from Amelia Carson of Santa Fe on June 28.
At issue are the portions of the donations that exceeded $5,200 – which total $10,900. That’s because the Secretary of State’s Office maintains contributions for the primary election cycle cannot be accepted after the primary election.
The dust-up between the two high-ranking state officials began earlier this month, when the ethics administrator for the Secretary of State’s Office told King his campaign contributions had violated the state law that caps the size of donations.
King accused Duran’s office of being politically motivated in its handling of the matter.
“I believe this is a disingenuous attempt to influence the outcome of the gubernatorial election rather than perform your statutory and constitutional duties,” King wrote in a July 18 memo to the Secretary of State’s Office.
That prompted a follow-up letter from Duran, who told King he had not given a valid argument as to the legality of the contributions and denied any partisan motivation on her part.
“We treat each (accusation) the same and we take each complaint seriously, doing our best to determine the facts and pursue remedies or corrections as appropriate,” Duran wrote in the Friday letter.
New Mexico lawmakers in 2009 approved campaign contribution limits, though the caps did not take effect until after the 2010 general election. Previously, most candidates and campaign committees could accept donations of any amount.
Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican who is running against King in the November general election, has also received donations from individuals that – in sum – exceed $5,200. However, all those contributions appear to have been made before the primary election, which her campaign has said makes them allowable under state law.
Martinez has a sizable financial advantage over King in the gubernatorial race. She reported having $4.3 million in her campaign war chest earlier this month, compared with $116,018 for King. King has lent his campaign about $540,000.