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Dueling campaign complaints resolved in secretary of state race

SANTA FE, N.M. — Secretary of State Brad Winter has disposed of dueling campaign finance complaints lodged against the Republican and Democratic candidates in the contentious race to succeed him.

Winter concluded last week that the Republican nominee for secretary of state, Nora Espinoza, did not violate state campaign finance laws, as a complaint from a Democratic Party official alleged.

Two weeks earlier, he had determined that a complaint filed against Democratic nominee Maggie Toulouse Oliver by a Republican lawmaker was filed too late for his office to act on.

Republican nominee Nora Espinoza, left, and Democrat nominee Maggie Toulouse Oliver

Republican nominee Nora Espinoza, left, and Democrat nominee Maggie Toulouse Oliver.

Espinoza, a state representative from Roswell, and Toulouse Oliver, the Bernalillo County clerk, are running in the Nov. 8 general election to fill out the final two years of former Secretary of State Dianna Duran’s term. Winter, a Republican, was appointed to the job after Duran resigned last year and pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds.

Robert Lara of Las Cruces, treasurer of the state Democratic Party, alleged there were multiple violations of the Campaign Reporting Act and administrative rules in reports Espinoza filed this year.

Lara said the GOP nominee failed to identify specific vendors and purchases on her spending reports, instead listing “Citi Cards” as the recipient.

Winter said the law doesn’t clearly require a vendor, so there was no violation. But he said that “in an effort to promote transparency,” Espinoza should provide more detail, and that the campaign “may amend their 2016 primary reports” to reflect specific vendors.

Allegations that she didn’t provide a purpose for campaign expenditures and used campaign funds for personal business were unsubstantiated, Winter also found.

And her use of “businessman” or “business owner” to describe the occupations of donors of $250 or more was not a violation because the law doesn’t define “occupation,” according to Winter. But, again, he suggested that in the interest of transparency, she should amend the reports to give more detail.

Winter’s letter also said his office has no policy requiring couples who donate to a campaign to be listed as a single contributor – as Lara alleged – and therefore there was no violation when Espinoza’s report listed couples as contributors.

And Winter said Espinoza wasn’t required to report legal work by Rep. Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso, as an in-kind contribution because Espinoza said Cook hadn’t done any legal work for her campaign.

It was Cook who filed a complaint against Toulouse Oliver with Winter’s office, alleging that she should have reported a contribution that one political action committee gave another PAC two years ago – when she was running against Duran – that was earmarked for TV advertising supporting her.

Toulouse Oliver said the complaint was baseless, because she didn’t receive the contribution and is legally barred from coordinating with such independent expenditure committees. And she said it was filed too late.

Winter said any complaint about the 2014 general election had to be filed by Feb. 2, 2015. Cook’s complaint was received on June 22 of this year.

“I conclude that the complaint is untimely and our office is unable to proceed with an investigation,” Winter wrote on Aug. 4.