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Arbitrator rules against Cowboys for Trump

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In this March 12, 2019, file photo, Otero County Commissioner and Cowboys for Trump founder Couy Griffin denounces gun-control and abortion-rights bills in the New Mexico State Legislature at a protest outside the Capitol in Santa Fe. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee, File)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – An independent arbitrator has ruled that Cowboys for Trump – a group led by controversial Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin – must register as a political committee in New Mexico, disclose its donors and pay $7,800 in fines.

The decision by arbitrator Christian Doherty of Albuquerque is binding but separate from a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Cowboys for Trump against state elections officials. The suit is still pending.

The arbitration ruling comes as part of the state’s own administrative process – in which a group subject to an enforcement action by the Secretary of State’s Office may contest the decision and take it to an arbitrator on contract with the state government.

At issue was whether Cowboys for Trump is subject to New Mexico’s campaign law requiring political committees to register and file reports disclosing their donations and spending.

Following the arbitrator’s decision, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver directed the group on Friday to register, file reports and pay $7,800 in fines.

The ruling makes clear that Cowboys for Trump “must abide by New Mexico’s laws that provide the public with transparency about those organizations trying to influence our elections,” said Alex Curtas, a spokesman for Toulouse Oliver.

The group, in turn, has argued in federal court that state election officials are violating its civil rights by requiring registration and financial disclosures, interfering with its First Amendment rights.

Colin Hunter, an attorney for Cowboys for Trump, said last month that the group isn’t involved in state politics and shouldn’t be considered a political committee.

Cowboys for Trump has attracted attention for taking cross-country horseback rides to support the president and participating in rallies at the Roundhouse to protest abortions-rights legislation and other matters.

In May, a video surfaced of its founder, Griffin, the Otero County commissioner, saying “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat” during a rally in Truth or Consequences. He added that he meant the statement in a political, not physical, sense.

The Journal wasn’t immediately able to reach the group’s attorneys Friday.

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