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Dispute over pro-Trump group goes to arbitration

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Dalon Hulsey, from Luna, carries a flag supporting President Donald Trump during a rally outside the State Capitol in Santa Fe last year. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE – A dispute between a New Mexico-based group called Cowboys for Trump and Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver is headed to arbitration.

The Democratic secretary of state recently fined the group $7,800 – and possibly more – for not filing expenditure reports with her office, after ruling in November that Cowboys for Trump meets the state’s definition of a political action committee and ordering the group’s leaders to register as such.

Cowboys for Trump, through its attorney, has said the Secretary of State’s ruling violates its free speech rights and has balked at paying the fines.

In an attempt to break the impasse, an arbitration hearing will be held Feb. 28, Secretary of State’s Office spokesman Alex Curtas said Thursday.

The arbitrator will have 30 days after that hearing to make a final determination, which either side could appeal in state District Court.

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

The group came under scrutiny from the Secretary of State’s Office after several complaints were lodged by citizens.

In determining that Cowboys for Trump should have to register as a political committee, the Secretary of State’s Office said Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin, the group’s founder, has solicited money for the group that would go toward political purposes.

In addition, Toulouse Oliver’s office determined that Griffin may have broken state law by filming a video in the Otero County Commission chambers in which he requested donations to help pay for a horseback ride in support of Trump.

That potential violation has been referred to Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office for further review.

In response, Griffin has said he does not believe he has done anything wrong and suggested that Democratic officials feel threatened by the political profile of Cowboys for Trump and his past visits with the Republican president.

“It’s all politically driven,” Griffin said in a November interview. “I’ve got nothing to hide.”

Cowboys for Trump first registered as a New Mexico corporation in March 2019, according to state business filings, and sells T-shirts, hats and decals through its online shop.

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

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