- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 16, 2015

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - The spending of political contributions by elected officials in New Mexico came under greater scrutiny Wednesday as more allegations of possible violations of the state’s campaign finance reporting laws surfaced in the wake of a scandal that has cast a shadow over the secretary of state’s office.

The latest allegations have open-government advocates calling for a joint audit by the secretary of state’s office and the attorney general’s staff of all campaign finance records.

“They should get together right now and go through everybody’s reports - every statewide official and every legislator - and not rely on the public and the media to do that for them,” said Viki Harrison, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, a group that has been pushing for campaign finance reform. “This is important enough.”

New Mexico’s campaign finance reporting system was thrust into the spotlight more than two weeks ago when Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran was accused of misusing contributions from supporters to cover personal spending. She allegedly funneled donations to personal bank accounts and withdrew large sums of cash while frequenting casinos around the state.

Duran has pleaded not guilty to 64 counts of fraud, embezzlement, money laundering and other charges that stem from a confidential tip and a months-long investigation.

As secretary of state, Duran is responsible for enforcing New Mexico’s elections and campaign finance laws.

Her office is now looking into spending reports filed by Rep. James Roger Madalena, a Jemez Pueblo Democrat who has served in the House for 30 years. Reports show he spent campaign funds on surgery expenses, attire from a Nike outlet store, a new watch battery and satellite TV service. State law says campaign funds can be used only for expenses related to campaigning or duties of the office.

Reports filed by Rep. Antonio Maestas, an Albuquerque Democrat, also are being reviewed by the office. Maestas acknowledged he mistakenly failed to report more than $11,000 in contributions.

Madalena said Wednesday the revelations are a natural result of the spotlight put on the campaign finance system by Duran’s case. He chalked up his spending to “clerical errors and honest mistakes,” saying he was working to amend his reports.

Madalena also fired back at critics, saying this shouldn’t be a political issue. He then leveled his own accusations at a Republican lawmaker over campaign loan repayments and joined the call for a review of all campaign finance reports.

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.

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.

The next filing date for candidates is Oct. 13. While an audit isn’t required this time, a spokesman for the office said elections officials plan to review those reports anyway.

Harrison welcomed the news, saying there’s nothing preventing state agencies from doing more than what’s spelled out in statute to ensure transparency and accountability among elected officials.

A widespread review would allow for a clean slate, she said.

“And hopefully, everything moving forward will be accurate and we will have better systems in place to flag things,” Harrison said. “We have to be able to flag items and make sure everything is being reported.”

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