Sunday, August 03, 2008
3 Dems Allege Election Fraud
By Sean Olson
Journal Staff Writer
Three prominent Albuquerque lawmakers sent home by voters in the June primary filed suit Friday, alleging a conspiracy among their opponents and local nonprofits to defraud voters and skirt campaign finance laws.
Sens. Shannon Robinson and James Taylor and Rep. Dan Silva all seek to have the primary election annulled in the state District Court lawsuit.
The lawmakers, all Democrats, allege in the lawsuit a "secret campaign" among opponents Eric Griego, Tim Keller and Eleanor Chavez to distribute literature, make phone calls to voters and funnel at least $180,000 of undisclosed campaign funds using local nonprofits.
The three incumbents would not have lost the election without the alleged fraudulent activity, the lawsuit states.
"You can't create a scheme to violate campaign finance laws. ... It's fraud," Robinson said Saturday.
In a May interview with the Journal, the campaign manager for two of the three winning Democrats, Neri Holguin, said the campaigns did not coordinate with any nonprofits who distributed literature critical of the losing Democrats. She also denied any campaign money was shared.
Holguin did not return a Journal phone call Saturday night.
The lawsuit names the Center for Civic Policy and its director Eli Lee; Conservation Voters New Mexico, its director Javier Benavidez and its president Ned Farquhar; the SouthWest Organizing Project and its director Albert Ozawa Bineshi; and New Energy Economy Inc., its president John Fogarty and director Keegan King as the nonprofits allegedly working with the winning Democrats in the campaign.
Officials for the Center for Civic Policy said in May they had sent out literature for the Legislative Accountability Project in conjunction with several other nonprofits, including the SouthWest Organizing Project.
They said they sent the materials out as mailers starting after the end of the last legislative session as educational materials for voters based on the legislators' voting records, not as campaign materials intended to unseat lawmakers.
The mailers, which criticized the losing officials for their voting records and campaign contributors, were stopped more than a month before the primary to avoid the appearance of any partisanship, they said.
"Our organizations have a long and proud history of working for ethics reform, good government, health care and a clean environment," Lee said in an e-mail Saturday. "As nonpartisan, not-for-profit organizations, it is our responsibility to educate the public about the votes and contributions of our elected officials."
Lee said in the e-mail that his organization had just learned of the lawsuit Friday night and had not had a chance to review it. He said the Center for Civic Policy could not comment further.
The lawsuit claims the $180,000 was distributed to the listed nonprofits to put out negative campaign materials without notifying the Secretary of State of any contributions or spending in the campaign.
The $180,000 was originally distributed by the New Mexico League of Young Voters to the other organizations, it states.
The League of Young Voters group, however, disbanded last year and re-formed under a different capacity as New Mexico Youth Organized, a division of the Center for Civic Policy. It is directed by King.
Center for Civic Policy officials said in May that they shared information but not money or resources with the other nonprofits in the Legislative Accountability Project.
The Attorney General's Office sent a letter to the secretary of state in May advising that New Mexico Youth Organized be recategorized as a political action committee, not a nonprofit, based on a complaint from Robinson.
The secretary of state has not yet responded to the letter.
An attorney for New Mexico Youth Organized said at the time that the AG's letter was based on inaccurate information provided by Robinson, and the group was never contacted by the AG's Office for any fact-checking before the letter was issued.
Robinson declined to comment Saturday on what evidence the lawmakers were basing their allegations on, but added the lawmakers all firmly believed the claims in their lawsuit.