- Associated Press - Monday, February 9, 2015

FARMINGTON, N.M. (AP) - Many of the fines assessed by the secretary of state’s office for violations of New Mexico’s campaign finance reporting laws have gone uncollected.

The Daily Times reported (https://bit.ly/1IEEauD ) that the office collected only 4 percent of the nearly 2,000 fines levied against candidates during the 2012 and 2014 primary and general elections.

The newspaper reviewed campaign finance data obtained through a public records request and found that Secretary of State Dianna Duran waived more than a third of fines and more than 60 percent went uncollected.

State law allows for Duran to refer delinquent fines to the state attorney general’s office for investigation and possible prosecution. None had been referred as of the end of the January, according to her chief of staff, Ken Ortiz.

Allowing the fines to slide sets a bad precedent, said Denise Roth Barber, managing director of the nonprofit group National Institute on Money in State Politics. These actions, she said, tell candidates: “Don’t worry about it. You’re going to get away with it.”

Duran and Ortiz did not immediately respond to emails asking about the number of fines that go uncollected.

State law requires that candidates’ reports list donations and expenditures. The public documents are also supposed to list the donations’ sources.

A late campaign finance report triggers a letter from state officials, saying the candidate will be fined $50 per working day until the report is filed. If the candidate offers an explanation within 10 days, that fine could be waived.

The newspaper found the secretary of state’s office received 774 explanations for the 1,984 fines its staff assessed.

In the case of Matthew Tso, the perennial candidate was initially fined more than $22,700 for missing reporting deadlines over five years and reports last year that failed to accurately list expenses for campaign signs and radio ads.

Most of Tso’s fines were waived. In an explanation to the secretary of state’s office, Tso - who has run for the state Senate and a judicial post - said he had trouble filing online and that state officials did not tell him how to go about resolving the fines.

Despite the unpaid fines, a loophole allowed him to run for the school board in December.

Common Cause New Mexico, a government watchdog group, found in a recent survey of New Mexico voters that most want greater transparency when it comes to campaign finance and lobbying efforts.

A handful of bills addressing the issues have been introduced this legislative session.

The state’s lax enforcement is making candidates lazy and creating a vicious cycle, Viki Harrison of Common Cause New Mexico said.

“We can whine about the fact that nobody votes, and we can whine about the fact that people don’t register to vote,” Harrison said. “But if they don’t see any accountability from any of their elected officials, why would they vote?”


Information from: The Daily Times, https://www.daily-times.com

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