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Audit reveals questionable campaign spending

SANTA FE – A review of New Mexico campaign spending reports done by Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver’s office has turned up questionable expenditures by several candidates and political committees.

In one case, the Secretary of State’s Office said it had referred to the Attorney General’s Office a case involving a group registered as a nonprofit that spent $47,500 in the 2016 election cycle.

That group, the New Mexico Habitat Conservation Initiative, gave money primarily to Republican state political committees and was formed by Dan Perry, a Santa Fe attorney who pushed for a 2015 law that bars the public from walking or wading in streams that run through private property without written permission.

The secretary of state’s report, released Wednesday, said it is “possible” the group operates primarily for political purposes, which would require it to register with the state as a political committee.

It also said the group had not responded to a February letter from the Secretary of State’s Office seeking an explanation for the potential violation.

A random audit of at least 10 percent of campaign finance reports – that have to be periodically filed by candidates and political committees – is required under state law after each general election, but the audit results had not previously been released publicly.

Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, vowed to do so after winning election last year, saying the audit results would allow New Mexicans to better scrutinize how elected officials are receiving and spending campaign funds.

Other potential violations in the random audit of the campaign reports of 106 candidates and political committees were voluntarily corrected once they were pointed out, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Such violations included the purchase of boots and compression shorts, as well as a chiropractor visit, paid for by the re-election campaign of Clint Welborn, the district attorney for the Socorro-based 7th Judicial District.

Welborn repaid the money in question – a total of $354.15 – into a public election fund, the Secretary of State’s Office said.

Under state law, campaign funds can be used for campaign-related expenditures and expenses reasonably related to the duties of office. New rules further defining what expenditures are allowed – and which are not – are expected to be proposed by Toulouse Oliver in the coming weeks.

In a statement, Toulouse Oliver said the audit showed most elected officials are complying with state law but also revealed problematic areas that her office will try to fix via “educational efforts with future candidates to ensure full disclosure and compliance regarding the use of campaign funds.”

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