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Wife Filled Rodella Coffers

By Jeff Jones
Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Politics Writer
    State Rep. Debbie Rodella used her own campaign re-election war chest to bankroll her husband's campaign for a $77,673-a-year magistrate judge post in Española, according to a Journal analysis.
    The eight-term legislator reported giving her husband, Rio Arriba County Magistrate Tommy Rodella, more than $7,500 of in-kind contributions last year— making her the single largest source of outright donations to his campaign.
    Aside from her contributions and a $10,000 loan he gave himself, Tommy Rodella reported a grand total of $75 in money given to his campaign by only two other contributors.
    Tommy Rodella, no stranger to political controversy, won the 2006 Democratic primary for the magistrate job by 232 votes over his nearest competitor in a six-way race. He ran unopposed in the November general election.
    Unlike rules for federal candidates, New Mexico campaign-finance law does not cap the amount of money or in-kind contributions that any one candidate or any single source can give to another.
    A measure to limit contributors to giving no more than $2,300 per candidate for each election— whether it be cash or in-kind services— sailed through the state House earlier this year before withering in the Senate. And members of an ethics task force created by Gov. Bill Richardson are working on recommendations for a new campaign-finance measure for the upcoming 2008 legislative session.
    Richardson's spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said Friday that passing campaign finance limits is a priority for Richardson next year.
    "Any contribution limits should include both money and in-kind," said task force member and House Majority Leader W. Ken Martinez, D-Grants.
    Concerning campaign finance, "you want to make sure it's not a tube of toothpaste— where you squeeze it in one place and it comes out another place," Martinez said.
    Debbie Rodella, D-Ohkay Owingeh, is perhaps best-known for switching her vote in 1997 to support casino-gambling in New Mexico, allowing it to pass the House.
    Tommy and Debbie Rodella did not return several Journal messages left for them last week.
Help from wife
    The June 2006 primary-election race for Rio Arriba County's Division 1 magistrate post was pricey.
    While many magistrate judge candidates in rural New Mexico counties report spending less than $1,000 for their races, the six Democrats vying for the Rio Arriba job collectively spent more than $26,000, campaign records show.
    Tommy Rodella had no money in his campaign account before he loaned himself $10,000 for the race in March 2006, according to campaign reports on file with the Secretary of State's Office.
    In April, a lumber store chipped in $50, one of the two cash contributions he reported for all of 2006.
    Meanwhile, Debbie Rodella's legislative campaign account was buying her husband important campaign materials.
    Her reports show:
  • On March 30, 2006, the Debbie Rodella campaign reported a $1,213.59 expenditure to an Albuquerque print shop. The purpose was listed as "Campaign Material— Donation to Thomas R. Rodella for Magistrate Judge."
  • On May 30, 2006, the Debbie Rodella campaign reported an expenditure of $3,821.93 to an Albuquerque mail-services firm. It listed more than $1,400 of that expense for a "Mailout— Donation to Thomas R. Rodella for Magistrate Judge."
  • On June 4 and June 5, 2006, just before the June 6 primary, the Debbie Rodella campaign reported spending $2,671.42 for another mailout to benefit her husband's election and $617.76 to a Chama radio station for a "Radio Advertisement— Donation to Thomas R. Rodella for Magistrate Judge."
        After the June primary, Debbie Rodella's campaign reported a $200 expenditure June 21 and a $214.50 expenditure Oct. 9 for more radio-ad donations to her husband's campaign.
        Tommy Rodella's reports show another $1,250 in-kind contribution from his wife on June 21, 2006.
        He reported his second and final cash contribution— $25 from a person listing a Chimayó post office box— on June 23.
        Tommy Rodella reported campaign expenditures of less than $7,200, not including the $2,883 in loan repayment he gave himself in August. But, with his wife's contributions included, a total of about $14,600 was spent on the Tommy Rodella campaign.
        It's common for candidates in New Mexico to loan themselves money from personal resources to finance their campaigns. It's also common for other candidates, usually political leaders, to help fellow candidates with contributions.
        It is uncommon, however, for a fellow candidate to provide the lion's share of another contender's campaign receipts.
        While Tommy Rodella narrowly won his primary election contest, Debbie Rodella also prevailed in her close state House primary election battle over challenger and former county commissioner Moises Morales.
        Debbie Rodella, like her husband, ran unopposed in the November general election.
    Controversial past
        Tommy Rodella has seen his share of controversy as magistrate.
        Richardson in March 2005 appointed him to the post to fill a vacancy, but Rodella resigned a few months later, following allegations that he improperly got an acquaintance released from jail shortly after the acquaintance's arrest on suspicion of drunken driving.
        Last year, the state Attorney General's Office, during an investigation into an alleged vote-buying scheme, filed a court document in which one voter claimed Tommy Rodella offered him money in exchange for his vote.
        Rodella has not been charged with any crime, and an attorney for Rodella last year accused outgoing Attorney General Patricia Madrid of "despicable and unfair" conduct by trying to use the issue to better her chances in an unsuccessful 2006 challenge to Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., in the 1st Congressional District.
        Phil Sisneros, spokesman for Attorney General Gary King, who took office at the beginning of this year, said the investigation into the vote-buying allegations is continuing and that two other men charged in the case are to stand trial later this month.
        Earlier this summer, a prosecutor accused Rodella of violating the state Code of Judicial Conduct in his handling of a domestic-violence case, but the petition was later withdrawn.