Winter, who was appointed to the high-profile post by Gov. Susana Martinez, told the Journal this week that the office will be “more accountable, more transparent and more open” under his watch.
The Secretary of State’s Office has dealt with turbulence in recent years, with the resignation of former Secretary of State Dianna Duran – who pleaded guilty to charges she misused campaign contributions to cover gambling expenses – the latest chapter.
Winter, who has said he will not run for secretary of state in 2016, said he’s hoping to bring stability to the office.
“I think the whole team is excited about turning the page and moving forward,” he said. “I’m only going to be here for a short time, and we’re out here to serve New Mexico and serve all legislators.”
The new guidelines for lobbyists were already in the works before Winter was appointed but were not released until last week.
They include instructions to lobbyists on how to register and file reports with the Secretary of State’s Office. The nonbinding guidelines will be mailed to all registered lobbyists, and were based on suggestions from legislators, media representatives and lobbyists themselves, Winter said.
The office also has made changes to its online campaign database so that lobbyists can report if they are making a donation to a candidate on behalf of a business or person. That option was not previously available, making it difficult to match up spending reports.
“It probably won’t fix everything, but I think it’s a great place to start,” said Viki Harrison, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, a group that has pushed for tougher campaign spending disclosure laws. “It’s going to make the data more usable because, until now, it really hasn’t been.”
Meanwhile, the new secretary of state – the first man to hold the job since 1922 – indicated he still hasn’t made up his mind on whether he will keep the Albuquerque City Council seat he has held for 16 years and was re-elected to in October.
Winter has said he believes he can handle both positions and received support on his stance in a meeting this week with members of a neighborhood coalition in his Albuquerque council district.
“Since (secretary of state) is a temporary position, I’m really looking to see if I can stay on (the council),” Winter said.
“Both these offices … are very, very important offices, so I would never do anything that would jeopardize either one of these offices.”
Some critics have contended Winter should resign from his City Council post to focus on his new job duties.
Joe Kabourek, the executive director of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, said this week that state residents deserve a secretary of state who is “100 percent focused” on cleaning up the office.
Winter also told the Journal he plans to continue living in Albuquerque and commuting to Santa Fe for his secretary of state duties. He said he has checked into the legality of such an arrangement and believes it to be permissible.
“If someone wants to show me something different, I’ll be glad to look into that,” he said.
Per state law, the secretary of state gets an $85,000-per-year salary. As an Albuquerque city councilor, Winter is set to make $30,000 a year in his current term. He also receives monthly pension benefits of $7,842.11 – or roughly $94,000 annually – as a retired Albuquerque Public Schools executive, according to the Educational Retirement Board.
Winter said one of his first orders of business since being appointed secretary of state has been to call each of the state’s 33 county clerks – who will run the 2016 elections – and introduce himself.
He also said he plans to meet with Attorney General Hector Balderas and individual legislators in the coming weeks.
Regarding several pending investigations into questionable campaign finance reports filed by lawmakers, Winter said he has not yet fully reviewed the complaints.
And as for the new campaign spending rules, which were proposed during Duran’s tenure, but put on hold after her resignation, Winter did not provide specifics, but said they will be revived as part of his policy agenda for the coming year.
“That reporting issue, we’ve got to make it better for transparency and accountability, and just easier for legislators to access and file the correct data,” he said.