Editorial: An opportunity for more transparency

Farmington Daily Times

Dianna Duran still doesn't get it.

Duran was New Mexico's Secretary of State until her abrupt resignation Thursday night. She has been under fire since August when state Attorney General Hector Balderas filed charges against her that included embezzlement and falsifying campaign finance reports.

The sad irony is that Duran's office is responsible for enforcing the state's campaign finance reporting law.

So, when Duran said, "I want it to be completely clear to all New Mexicans that at no time did I ever do anything in my official capacity as secretary of state that would jeopardize the integrity of the office" — according to an Associated Press story — it was clear she still doesn't understand the gravity of her malfeasance.

Duran is accused of diverting about $13,000 in campaign donations for personal use and filing false reports with her own office to cover up those actions. She reportedly pleaded guilty to felony embezzlement charges and four misdemeanors, and can withdraw the guilty pleas if a judge later sentences her to prison time.

In February, before Balderas filed the charges, The Daily Times published an analysis based on information we obtained from her office through the state's Inspection of Public Records Act that showed she was not enforcing the campaign finance reporting law.

Our investigation showed she had collected only about 4 percent of the 1,984 fines her office assessed during the 2012 and 2014 primary and general elections. She waived approximately one-third of the uncollected fines, and failed to refer any of the rest for investigation and possible prosecution. (Recently, her office referred a few of those cases for investigation.)

On these pages, right after we published the results of our investigation, we said Duran was guilty of dereliction of duty. More recently, we said that even if the charges didn't stick, she should resign because she had shown no inclination to do the job New Mexico voters entrusted her to do. And now we see she might have had personal reasons to ignore the law.

So, Duran has most assuredly jeopardized the integrity of the office. However, she is no longer in that position and we will give her this, her alleged actions make it clear how important the state's Campaign Reporting Act is. And they make it clear that the act needs strengthening.

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Shortly after the results of our investigation were published, Duran and Balderas formed a joint commission to study the law and its implementation. Duran didn't seem committed to the process, but Balderas made some recommendations that we have endorsed.

Among them were making violations of the act subject to mandatory fines, creating an educational component within the Secretary of State's Office to help candidates understand what is required of them, and improving the website where candidates can report their financial activity to make it easier for them to comply with the law.

We still support those recommendations and we hope the new secretary of state will take them seriously. Campaign finance reporting allows voters to see who is supporting the candidates and what kinds of ties they have. It creates the kind of transparency that helps voters have confidence in the system by which we choose the people who will represent us in government.

Strengthening the Campaign Reporting Act will help protect the integrity of the voting process, which is vital to our Democracy.