- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 10, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - One of the candidates running for secretary of state is raising more questions about the accuracy and transparency of New Mexico’s electronic campaign finance reporting system, saying the online searchable database is incomplete.

The latest request for an investigation came from Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who also serves as Bernalillo County clerk.

She told reporters during a news conference that a spot check of dozens of campaign spending records dating back more than a decade showed discrepancies between the information available in the online searchable database and the printable and downloadable reports. For example, the purpose of some expenditures was omitted online while printed records provided more detail.

“We don’t know the extent of the problem but we do know that it is affecting candidates across the board and affecting reports all the way back to 2004,” she said. “It does beg the question as to whether this has been a flaw in the system for years and years and years.”

State elections officials began researching the problem as soon as they were notified Wednesday and vowed that the printable and downloadable reports are accurate.

The problem occurs only when a summary search is done online, said Ken Ortiz, a spokesman for the agency. A glitch in the software uses the occupation of the individual or business listed in the expense report rather than the purpose of the expenditure.

Ortiz called it a quick fix, saying the state will be reaching out to the system vendor to correct the problem.

“There’s no doubt that the system has much to be desired, and we’ve been working with the Legislature to get it replaced,” he said, noting that an appropriation that would have cleared the way for a new system was stripped during the last legislative session.

The secretary of state’s office is already working on a request for when lawmakers meet again in January.

Toulouse Oliver suggested a “top-to-bottom” review of the system and her opponent Republican Nora Espinoza has said a complete overhaul is needed.

Democrat opponents had filed a complaint against Espinoza last month, claiming her reports were incomplete. On Wednesday, her campaign called the complaint malicious and said it was disingenuous to blame online information for the false accusations.

Toulouse Oliver said her concerns with the system were separate from Espinoza’s complaint.

“This system does not meet the highest standards of transparency and accountability that we deserve as citizens,” she said. “That’s why I believe we may need to scrap the current system and start over.”

New Mexico’s campaign finance system has been under the microscope for years. The intensity escalated last year with revelations that former Secretary of State Dianna Duran had funneled campaign contributions to personal accounts to fuel a gambling spree. She resigned and pleaded guilty to felony embezzlement and money laundering charges.

The open government advocacy group Common Cause New Mexico has been pushing for improvements long before the Duran case. Executive director Viki Harrison said the latest discrepancies with the online information could be addressed by more technological improvements and routine audits.

“The Legislature does not want to hear this, but they’ve got to put some resources into this and not keep Band-Aiding the system,” she said. “Once it starts affecting them and how they’re perceived, I’m hoping that’s going to light a fire under some folks.”

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