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Cowboys for Trump faces scrutiny

Otero County Commissioner and Cowboys for Trump founder Couy Griffin speaks at a March protest outside the state Capitol in Santa Fe in this file photo. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver is directing that Cowboys for Trump register as a political committee and says Griffin may have violated the state’s Governmental Conduct Act. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A New Mexico-based group called Cowboys for Trump is getting lassoed by the state’s top elections official.

In a letter sent this week, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver’s office ordered the leaders of Cowboys for Trump to register as a state political committee within 15 days or face possible fines.

In addition, the Secretary of State’s office determined Otero County Commissioner Cuoy Griffin, the group’s founder, may have broken state law by filming a video in the County Commission chambers in which he requested donations to help pay for a horseback ride in support of President Donald Trump.

“Commissioner Griffin’s filming of a video soliciting funds for his company Cowboys for Trump, a political organization, using public resources may be contrary to the Governmental Conduct Act, and therefore we are requesting your further review of these actions,” Deputy Secretary of State Sharon Pino wrote in a referral letter to the state’s top prosecutor, Attorney General Hector Balderas.

A spokesman for Balderas said the letter is under review.

The findings by the secretary of state, a Democrat, came after her office had received several complaints regarding Griffin’s actions.

However, Griffin said in an interview Thursday he does not believe he has done anything wrong and suggested that Democratic officials feel threatened by the visibility of Cowboys for Trump and his past visits with the Republican president.

“It’s all politically driven,” Griffin told the Journal. “I’ve got nothing to hide.”

He also indicated he planned to comply with the instruction to register Cowboys for Trump as a political committee, but said he planned to get legal advice before proceeding.

Cowboys for Trump has generated headlines for its cross-country horseback ride to support the president. The group also held a rally outside the Roundhouse during this year’s 60-day legislative session to protest an abortion rights bill and border-related issues.

In a short period of time, Cowboys for Trump has grown from an informal grass-roots group to something larger, Griffin said. It was registered as a New Mexico corporation in March, according to state business filings, and the company sells T-shirts, hats and decals at its online shop.

While the group is not currently registered as a political committee, the Secretary of State’s Office said it is required to do so since Griffin has allegedly solicited funds for Cowboys for Trump that would go toward political purposes.

In New Mexico, political committees are generally required to file periodic reports with the Secretary of State’s office and disclose their donors.

Meanwhile, Cowboys for Trump has already faced scrutiny from state Auditor Brian Colón’s office over a travel reimbursement Griffin received after a September trip to Washington, D.C., during which Griffin met with Trump.

Griffin said he has talked with Trump several times in recent months, including a meeting in the Oval Office. He was also part of the official welcoming committee that met Trump at Kirtland Air Force base in September before the president held a political rally in Rio Rancho.

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