WASHINGTON – Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, a Democratic candidate in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District race, said Friday that she will return $2,750 in campaign contributions given to her by seven lawyers who had cases pending in the court of her husband, state District Judge Victor Lopez.
A spokesman for Sedillo Lopez’s campaign, Jason Rodriguez, said the former University of New Mexico law professor was unaware that the donors had cases before her husband at the time they made the contributions. He said Sedillo Lopez decided to return the money immediately after the Journal raised the issue with the campaign Friday.
“Antoinette has received support from more than 4,000 individuals, including former students and colleagues from her time as a law professor and associate dean of the UNM Law School, who she now considers friends,” Rodriguez said in an email. “When made aware of this small number of contributors, the campaign immediately refunded the contributions. Antoinette is a strong believer of integrity in our elections, and that is why she supports campaign finance reform, overturning Citizens United, and that is why she has refused to accept corporate PAC money in this campaign.”
The New Mexico lawyers’ campaign contributions to Sedillo Lopez were not illegal.
The Journal tried to contact all seven donors this week, but only two took calls or returned phone messages.
Christopher Bauman, who donated $500 to Sedillo Lopez in June 2017, was in the middle of a bench trial before Judge Lopez at the time of his donation, according to court records.
“To the extent there is an insinuation of an attempt to gain some sort of influence of the judge, I can tell you the judge ruled against me,” Bauman said.
Mary Behm of the Hinkle Shanor law firm in Albuquerque donated $250 to Sedillo Lopez’s campaign – also in June 2017 – when she was representing Presbyterian Healthcare Services in a lawsuit against Presbyterian Hospital. Behm said Sedillo Lopez solicited the donation but didn’t pressure her for a contribution.
Behm also said she is a former law student and colleague of Sedillo Lopez’s at UNM and that her pending case in her husband’s court didn’t occur to her at the time.
“I didn’t think anything of it,” she said, adding that Lopez has made rulings in her cases “that I was distinctly unhappy with.”
Other New Mexico attorneys with cases pending before Lopez at the time they contributed to Sedillo Lopez’s campaign are Elias Barela, who contributed $500 in June 2017; Alvin Garcia, who donated $250 in September 2017; Robert St. John, who donated $500 in May 2017; Gabrielle Valdez, who contributed $500 in June 2017; and Matthew Zamora, who gave the candidate a $250 donation in May 2017.
As of the last filing with the Federal Election Commission, Sedillo Lopez ranked second in the 1st District race for total contributions, with $706,954 received. Debra Haaland led all six Democratic candidates, with $836,709 in donations, while Damon Martinez was the third-highest money recipient, with $699,263.
Journal staff writer Mike Gallagher contributed to this report.