Rep. Brian Egolf: state must improve its campaign finance reporting system

Dan Schwartz The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A New Mexico legislator involved in a process that could lead to impeaching Secretary of State Dianna Duran said that the state needs to improve its campaign finance reporting process to ensure candidates can efficiently file their reports.

And he said Duran's push for voter identification could result in a law that disenfranchises voters.

House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, who visited Farmington on Friday, said a 10-member legislative committee is meeting on Sept. 28 to begin investigating charges of fraud, embezzlement, money laundering, falsifying campaign finance reports and other crimes leveled against Duran. One of the issues under consideration is whether Duran should be impeached by the Legislature.

Egolf helped pick the five Democratic members on the committee. The other five are Republicans.

On Aug. 28, Attorney General Hector Balderas charged Duran with 64 counts in a complaint that included allegations she funneled thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to her personal accounts in 2013 and 2014. She allegedly withdrew the money from ATMs at some of the state's casinos.

Duran's chief of staff, Ken Ortiz, did not return an email or phone call seeking comment for this story.

In 2011, Duran ordered her staff to check 1.16 million voter registration records in an effort to catch voters illegally casting ballots, and she referred 64,000 voter registration records to the state police, according to a July 31, 2011, Los Angeles Times story. Duran told The Daily Times voter identification was necessary to protect against voter fraud and ensure the integrity of the voting process. However, she could point to only a few cases.

"Out of billions and billions of ballots cast, it's a pretty small issue," Egolf said.

Voter identification laws disenfranchise voters, he said, many of whom are poor, elderly and of color.

However, Duran's enforcement of the state's campaign finance reporting law, which allows voters to see what groups and individuals are supporting a candidate, has been lax.

In February, The Daily Times discovered Duran's office had collected only 4 percent of the 1,984 fines her office assessed for campaign finance reporting violations during the 2012 and 2014 primary and general elections. About a third of those fines were waived and she took no further action on all but a few of the rest.

Egolf said Duran has the discretion to decide whether to issue fines. Many candidates, he said, are fined for honest mistakes because her office's reporting software is antiquated or they made typographical errors.

"There's a lot of problems with the system that she is operating," he said.

That's why he wants the office to switch to a system similar to the Federal Election Committee's, which makes it harder for candidates to make mistakes, he said.

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