Number of campaign finance violations secretary of state has referred to attorney general remains unclear

Dan Schwartz The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Even though Attorney General Hector Balderas said in February he was ready to accept referrals of campaign reporting law violations from Secretary of State Dianna Duran, it is unclear how many cases Duran has sent to the attorney general to investigate and possibly prosecute.

"We are currently in the process of compiling our list of candidates still out of compliance for referral to the Attorney General at this time," Ken Ortiz, chief of staff and spokesman for Duran's office, said in an email Friday.

James Hallinan, Balderas' spokesman, said in an email on May 22 that the attorney general has received violation referrals from Duran's office, but he did not say how many.

Balderas' office released one violation referral from Duran on Friday, and a records custodian said he would release the others by June 10, once he had located them.

In early February, The Daily Times reported that during the 2012 and 2014 primary and general elections, Duran had collected only 4 percent of the nearly 2,000 fines her office had assessed. The Daily Times reported that she waived 34 percent of the other fines, while failing to collect another 62 percent.

According to a Daily Times analysis, 14 candidates had filed 10 or more campaign finance reports late during the election cycles, and there were many other repeat offenders.

In late February, Balderas and Duran announced the formation of a task force to overhaul Duran's campaign finance reporting system.

Since February, Duran's office had not responded to any Daily Times questions about how her office enforces the Campaign Reporting Act. But Ortiz on Friday answered questions in an email. He declined to conduct a phone interview.

He said Duran's office randomly audits 10 percent of the campaign finance reports it receives after each election cycle, referencing 2012 and 2014 audits.

But he did not say when Duran's office began auditing reports. He declined a follow-up phone interview, and a series of question emailed to him — including one that asked when Duran's office began auditing reports — were not answered Friday.

"When the 2012 audits were conducted, any potential violations were resolved through voluntary compliance, and no referrals were made to the Attorney General," Ortiz said in an email.

He said the Campaign Reporting Act allows Duran to waive any fine her office imposes on a candidate for violating the act "if it is determined that good cause existed for late filing."

Viki Harrison — the director of Common Cause New Mexico, a branch of a national nonprofit organization that advocates for open, honest and accountable government — said someone has to be held accountable if they don't voluntarily do what campaign finance reporting laws require. And if candidates aren't following campaign reporting laws after Duran's office has discovered they are out of compliance, she said, "that's when it goes to the AG's office."

But those laws and Duran's campaign finance reporting system are confusing, she said.

Harrison said she has accidently filed campaign finance documents incorrectly with Duran's office before, and she is glad the secretary of state has the discretion to waive penalties. The goal is not to fine candidates, especially a losing candidate with little money; the goal is to achieve compliance with the law, she said.

"This is about access for the public," she said. "It's not about a 'gotcha' to the candidates."

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