School board candidates' fines reduced

Dan Schwartz The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The New Mexico Secretary of State's Office has reduced the thousands of dollars in fines a current candidate for the Central Consolidated School District's board of education is facing, and it is now reviewing the fines of another school board candidate.

Both the candidates — Matthew Tso and Harrison Todacheene — ran and lost in the Nov. 4 general election while running for other offices. Both candidates accrued fines under the Campaign Reporting Act for filing late campaign finance reports. And through a loophole in state law, both candidates can legally campaign in the school board election, despite their violations.

Repeated efforts to reach Todacheene Thursday were unsuccessful.

Tso, who campaigned for magistrate judge, initially faced $4,750 in fines for filing three campaign finance reports late. But after receiving his explanation, officials in the Secretary of State's Office reduced his fines to $738, office official Mandy Vigil stated in an email.

Tso also violated the Campaign Reporting Act in a previous election, said Rod Adair, a spokesman for the Secretary of State's Office. But Adair was unable to provide specific dates.

"I'm still puzzled how the penalties occurred without me knowing," Tso said.

He said he wonders if he can appeal the $738 fine.

He said he's sorry his fines escalated, and he whishes they were brought to his attention sooner.

As of Dec. 8, Todacheene, who campaigned for District 4 state representative, was facing a $50 fine for filing one campaign finance report late. The Secretary of State's Office has received Todacheene's explanation, and officials are reviewing it to determine his final fine, Vigil stated in an email.

Vigil did not say whether the amount of Todacheene's fine had risen since Dec. 8.

For each business day a campaign finance report is late, the Secretary of State's Office can fine a candidate $50.

Office officials encourage a candidate to voluntarily comply with the Campaign Reporting Act and explain in writing why he or she filed late. The explanation allows officials to determine how much money, if any, they will fine the candidate.

But if a candidate does not comply, officials can refer the candidate's case to the New Mexico Attorney General's Office or a district attorney to enforce the fines.

Under the Campaign Reporting Act, candidates with overdue reports cannot file a declaration of candidacy until they pay their fines or Secretary of State Dianna Duran dismisses their case. That would prevent a candidate from running in another election.

But Tso and Todacheene filed their declarations in the CCSD election under a different act. It is the School District Campaign Reporting Act, and penalties in one act do not apply to the other.

Because of the discrepancy between the two acts, which Adair has described as a "huge, gaping hole," Tso and Todacheene can run for school board.

Tso said he didn't know of the loophole.

"I believe in accountability," he said.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and Follow him @dtdschwartz on Twitter.