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Campaign Donations Questioned

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Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has been facing criticism from political opponents over contributions found in new campaign finance reports, but the governor’s political representatives said the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

Meanwhile, the Secretary of State’s Office reversed its interpretation of a new campaign contribution cap law, leaving Martinez, as well as numerous Democratic political action groups, in the clear.

Democratic Party of New Mexico Executive Director Scott Forrester said this week that Martinez possibly broke state law when she accepted more than $60,000 for her campaign and more than $13,000 for her political action committee, called Susana PAC, during the Sept. 6-24 special legislative session.

“Such a large amount of money raises serious questions about whether Susana Martinez or her ‘agents’ solicited funds throughout the special session, breaking the very laws she vowed to uphold,” Forrester said.

State law prohibits soliciting donations during a legislative session. It does not prohibit accepting a donations during a session.

Martinez political consultant Jay McCleskey said Martinez did not solicit any of the questioned contributions during the session, nor were the donations given by supporters during that time.

“In raising resources, the governor’s PAC operates transparently by disclosing all donors, limits contributions, and adheres to both the spirit and letter of the law, including only soliciting contributions during appropriate times and not during any prohibited period,” Susana PAC spokesman Danny Diaz said.

In the controversy over campaign contribution caps, Ken Ortiz, chief of staff for Secretary of State Dianna Duran, said Thursday that his office changed its policy by allowing candidates for statewide office to accept up to $10,000 – other candidates can accept up to $4,600 – at one time, as long as the money is dedicated evenly between spending for primary and general elections – $5,000 for each cycle.

A new state law that took effect following the 2010 election puts a cap of $5,000 per donor eligible to go to a statewide candidate. Other candidates have a cap of $2,300. Donors can give up to the contribution limit in both the primary and general elections.

The Associated Press reported that the policy reverses a position taken in January, when a Democratic official was told by Duran’s office that a campaign or PAC had to gather separate donations for each election or risk violating the law.

Thomas Dow, a lawyer with Duran’s office, said he began reviewing the policy after several PACs reported accepting donations of more than $5,000 in April, including a donation from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

Martinez also reported accepting several $10,000 contributions starting in May.

Dow said that after the review, “We came to the understanding that the intention of the legislation was to mirror the federal election law,” which allows candidates to accept primary and general election funds at the same time.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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