Editorial: Fundraising emails from NM SOS don’t pass the smell test

The emails sure give the impression they are official state business.

The logo at the top says “Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver Secretary of State.”

The highlighted emphasis ranges from “making sure New Mexico elections are clean, safe, and fair” to helping “make sure last-minute voters hear Maggie’s message and understand the ins and outs of this year’s election” to “making sure that all voters have the necessary resources and knowledge to make their voices heard.”

The program designated as the answer to all this is the official-sounding “Voter Education Goal.”

And the ask is $5, $10, $20.20, $50 or $100 to get to a total of $4,000.

Wait, what?

A Legislative Finance Committee report showed the Secretary of State’s Office got a budget increase for fiscal 2020 of 8%, $684,000, over fiscal 2019 operating levels, a $3.5 million special appropriation for elections, a $260,000 special appropriation to upgrade the state election registration and voter information system, and a $250,000 supplemental appropriation to cover a shortfall in the Elections Program.

And just last month, Toulouse Oliver’s office announced it would tap millions of dollars in federal recovery funds to install drop boxes for absentee ballots.

So why is Toulouse Oliver now hitting up voters to ensure we all understand the election system and that it’s all above board?

Because apparently her political war chest needs an infusion, and there’s no reason to let panic over a fair election – seeds sown in great part by President Donald Trump – go to waste.

A closer look at the emails shows they do not come from a state address but from info@maggietoulouseoliver.com. And that the fine print at the bottom includes “Paid for by Friends of Maggie, Robert Lara, Treasurer.” In fact, the emails are a thinly disguised fundraising tool for an elected official who is not up for election.

But here’s the thing. As our secretary of state, Toulouse Oliver is entrusted with keeping all candidates on the straight and narrow. According to the Attorney General’s Governmental Conduct Act and Compliance Guide, Section 10-16-13.1 A: “The secretary of state shall advise and seek to educate all persons required to perform duties under the Governmental Conduct Act of those duties. This includes advising all those persons at least annually of that act’s ethical principles.”

And according to New Mexico Ethics Watch, these emails don’t pass the initial smell test.

The Journal sent the emails to the nonpartisan group dedicated to pushing for ethics and accountability of New Mexico’s public officials. The secretary of state “should be held to a standard to avoid the appearance of impropriety,” says executive director Kathleen Sabo. “Her job is to educate candidates on ethics – advise, educate.” And given her responsibilities under the Governmental Conduct Act, “this is worth a second look. There is so much confusion about the origin of the emails, is it official, is it not, it just doesn’t rise to that level of avoiding the appearance of impropriety that government officials should rise to.”

What is particularly disheartening is that Toulouse Oliver has been innovative and proactive in meeting the multiple challenges confronting our voting system – first as Bernalillo County clerk and now as a record number of New Mexicans cast their ballots amidst a worldwide pandemic.

Shilling for $5 or $10 or $100 for her war chest under the guise of delivering voter information and a fair election – the job she gets paid $85,000 a year by taxpayers to do – unfairly plays upon public concerns about the election. And it is not the kind of example our secretary of state should be setting.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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