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GOP complaint over campaign finance after deadline

SANTA FE – At least one aspect of this seemingly endless election season is over: It’s too late to complain to the secretary of state about violations of New Mexico’s campaign finance laws.

Brad Winter

Brad Winter

Under state law, those complaints can’t be filed within eight days before an election. According to Secretary of State Brad Winter’s office, that means they would have had to be received before Monday to be considered.

That appears to rule out a complaint the state Republican Party announced Tuesday against an independent expenditure committee that the GOP says illegally contributed directly to Democratic candidates.

Winter’s office, which has handled dozens of ethics complaints this election year, hadn’t received the GOP’s filing as of Tuesday. It was dated Nov. 1, according to a copy provided to the Journal.

“We usually hear about it from the press,” said Ken Ortiz, chief of staff in the Secretary of State’s Office.

Some complaints this year have been accompanied by superheated news releases, prompting candidates targeted by the complaints to grouse that they were filed largely for the publicity value.

According to Bureau of Elections Director Kari Fresquez, Winter’s office has received 55 election-related complaints this year, 27 aimed at candidates in the primary or general elections. The others complained about political action committees, county clerks’ offices or how elections – including municipal elections – were conducted.

That’s on a par with the previous general election year, 2014, when 52 complaints were filed, 28 of them against candidates, Fresquez said.

Most of this year’s complaints ended with the secretary of state either deciding there was no violation of the law, or with the target of the complaint voluntarily complying with the law. About a dozen of them are still pending.

The belated complaint from the state GOP says Enchantment PAC, which gets its money primarily in large chunks from Patriot Majority, a Washington, D.C.-based political action committee, reported contributions of $1,000 to Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, and $600 to Democrat Natalie Figueroa, running in House District 30. Independent expenditure committees are not supposed to coordinate with candidates.

Matthew Henderson, executive director of the nonprofit group OLÉ, which started Enchantment PAC, claimed there was no violation because the PAC is a hybrid and it contributed to candidates with money it received from individual donors, not from other PACs.

If New Mexico were to create an independent ethics commission, lawmakers would have to decide whether to establish a blackout period for complaints during election seasons. At least 11 states with ethics commissions have cutoff dates – in some cases months before elections – in an effort to distance themselves from the political process.

Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque, who sponsored an ethics commission proposal last year, said that, if a commission is created, the Legislature should consider some blackout period, but not until shortly before Election Day.

“I think what’s important is if you don’t have some vehicle in which to complain about somebody’s activities, then you’re giving them a blank check,” he told the Journal .