Tso pays campaign fines; Secretary of State's office silent on whether it audits reports

Dan Schwartz The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Matthew Tso, a perennial local candidate who has violated New Mexico campaign finance reporting laws numerous times, appears to have paid all his fines.

Initially, Tso faced more than $22,700 in fines for filing campaign finance reports late. Candidates are required to file the reports listing their campaign donations, expenditures and the sources for each. But state statute allows the Secretary of State to reduce or waive the fines, and current Secretary of State Dianna Duran reduced Tso's fines to $738.

Tso has provided The Daily Times what appears to be an official letter from the Secretary of State's office stating that he paid that amount, and his account is "now in compliance with the Campaign Reporting Act." According to the letter, he made the payment on Feb. 6 after The Daily Times had requested an interview with him to discuss his unpaid fines.

He did not return a phone call or text message by deadline seeking comment for this story. But in an email, he said the letter is "pretty self-explanatory. ... Case closed."

Since the beginning of the month, Duran and her staff have not answered questions about Tso or the significant amount of other campaign finance reporting fines that appear to be outstanding. A recent Daily Times analysis of campaign finance reporting violations showed that Duran's staff collected only a fraction of the fines she imposed, waived approximately one-third of those fines and failed to refer the rest for investigation and possible prosecution.

Duran's chief of staff, Ken Ortiz, did not return a phone call seeking confirmation of Tso's payment. Ortiz has also not said whether the office has audited any campaign finance reports.

The Secretary of State's office is extremely busy during the legislative session, he has said.

Tso appears to have violated the Campaign Reporting Act in other ways. He spent more money on radio ads in recent elections than he listed in his campaign finance reports, and he failed to list income or expenses in those reports for campaign signs he posted around San Juan County.

He has not explained the discrepancies, and Duran didn't answer questions on the matter sent to her office by The Daily Times.

San Juan County District Attorney Rick Tedrow said he knows there might be good reasons for some violations of campaign finance laws. Sometimes, he said, candidates forget.

"I mean, heck, I'm even guilty of that," he said.

Six years ago, he himself filed a campaign finance report late because he forgot the deadline. And sometimes candidates may have questions about the law, or they may make honest mistakes. "I understand things like that happen," he said.

But when candidates repeatedly violate the law and need to be advised of their violations, "then," he said, "it's a problem."

He'd be happy to investigate and make a determination based on the evidence, he said, if Duran's office was concerned and her staff needed help enforcing campaign laws. But she holds that evidence in her office, he said.

Tedrow said he can't evaluate evidence he doesn't have.

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