- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 13, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Advocates of open government renewed their call Tuesday for more transparency as the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office prepares to audit the latest batch of campaign finance reports filed by elected officials and candidates for political office.

Tuesday marked the deadline for state office holders, lawmakers and political action committees to report spending and donations received during the last six months.

State law requires the Secretary of State’s office to audit a random selection of 10 percent of the reports filed after each election cycle. Reports are filed twice a year, and even though the law doesn’t require it this time around, the office plans to begin its audit next week.

New Mexico’s campaign finance reporting system was thrust into the spotlight in August when Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran was accused of misusing contributions and filing false reports with her own office. She has pleaded not guilty to dozens of related charges.

Questions also have been raised about questionable spending and unreported contributions by at least three state lawmakers.

The current system is based mostly on the honor system, and only a fraction of violations in recent years have resulted in fines or referrals to the attorney general’s office.

Viki Harrison, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, said the audit is a step in the right direction. But the public needs more information about what happens with the audit results and whether the findings, if significant, trigger a more in-depth review, Harrison said.

“I think the public certainly appreciates the auditing. But without more transparency around the process, the lost faith in the office will not be restored until we know that this is being done in a uniform and nonpartisan manner,” she said.

Elected officials and candidates began filing their reports last week and more were coming in Tuesday. But the Secretary of State’s office expected some to miss the deadline despite all the media attention, individual email reminders and an online training session offered by the office.

Only seven candidates and PACs signed up for the training, which is typical for a non-election year, agency spokesman Ken Ortiz said.

Attorney General Hector Balderas, who brought the charges against Duran following a lengthy investigation, was among those who filed their reports before the deadline. His campaign reported more than $77,000 in contributions since April, including a $2,600 donation made last week by a company associated with former Gov. Bill Richardson.

House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, reported nearly $217,000 in contributions in the last six months, including $10,800 for the 2016 election season from the Albuquerque-based PAC New Mexico Forward.

The PAC received contributions from the Builders Trust of New Mexico, Devon Energy and other business groups. It also contributed to the campaign of Diego Espinoza, who is running for the Senate seat held by Democrat John Sapien.

Republicans, who won the majority in the House during the 2014 election, are looking to make a run at the Democrat-controlled Senate in 2016.

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