Friday, February 2, 2007
Gov.'s Fundraising Upsets GOP Senator
By Jeff Jones
Journal Politics Writer
A Republican state senator says Gov. Bill Richardson is crossing an ethical line and might be breaking state law by soliciting contributions to his presidential campaign while the Legislature is in session.
"This is an ethical violation," said Senate Minority Whip Leonard Lee Rawson of Las Cruces, referring to a state elections statute that prohibits lawmakers or the governor from soliciting "a contribution for a political purpose" during the annual legislative sessions.
Richardson presidential campaign spokesman Pahl Shipley countered that the law Rawson refers to does not apply to federal candidates.
In a written statement, Shipley accused Rawson of slinging "political mud."
"It is clear that the prohibition applies only to state elections and does not apply to candidates seeking federal office," Shipley said. "This is an obvious and not unexpected political attack from Senator Rawson."
Rawson has asked state Attorney General Gary King to look into the campaign-contribution matter.
King on Thursday called Rawson's question appropriate and said his office will likely weigh in within a week.
The prohibition against fundraising during New Mexico's annual legislative session is aimed at limiting the possible influence of campaign cash on lawmaking.
State elections law specifies that lawmakers cannot solicit contributions from Jan. 1 to the conclusion of the session. For the governor, the prohibited period runs from Jan. 1 until 20 days after the session concludes.
State elections law also prohibits lobbyists from donating to the campaigns of legislators and statewide elected officials during those time periods.
This year's 60-day session concludes in mid-March.
Richardson this month announced his decision to seek the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination and has attended several fundraisers outside the state.
Presidential candidates must follow federal guidelines for fundraising. Federal law supersedes state law on matters involving "limitation on contributions and expenditures regarding federal candidates and political committees."
Richardson is pushing state lawmakers this session for a sweeping ethics-reform package that includes contribution and gift limits and the formation of a new state ethics commission.
Rawson said in light of that push for clean government, Richardson should not be accepting presidential money until the period outlined under state law ends.
"We have a state law. It shouldn't be 'Which one trumps which?' it should be 'Which is the most ethical standard?' '' Rawson said. "Suspending fundraising for the next 60 days should not hurt an individual's campaign if they're a credible candidate to begin with."