- Associated Press - Friday, July 10, 2020

RIO RANCHO, N.M. (AP) - The New Mexico group, Cowboys for Trump, must register as a political committee in the state, and pay $7,600 in fines for not filing expenditure reports, an arbitrator ruled Friday.

“Should your client fail to comply with the requirements of the Arbitration Order, I will proceed with a referral to the State Ethics Commission for civil enforcement of the fine levied in this matter,” Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said in a letter to the group’s lawyers.

Cowboys for Trump has protested the requirements because it argues campaign finance laws violate free speech, and the group doesn’t meet the definition of a political committee. Cowboys for Trump members say the group is a for-profit organization.

Last year, Toulouse Oliver sent a letter to the group and said the organization falls under the definition of a political committee and must hire a treasurer and file biannual reports.

Fines are accrued at $50 for each working day after the due date that the report is late, not to exceed $5,000.

In November, Cowboys for Trump - started by Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin - had yet to file any of the statutorily required financial reports. Griffin said the group intends the arbitration ruling in federal court.

“There is so much corruption in New Mexico. You can’t get a fair shake here,” Griffin said. “This is all about politics.”

Griffin said Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, wants the group to disclose its funding so liberal organizations can shame businesses and residents who support the group. “That’s the way the Progressive Left works,” Griffin said.

The secretary of state’s office said it is trying to follow state campaign finance laws.

In October, the state auditor said he was investigating a travel reimbursement to Griffin in his capacity as an Otero County commissioner and whether it violated state law.

Griffin faced calls to resign in May as a county commissioner after was heard saying, “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.”

Griffin told The Associated Press he was speaking about politically killing the Democratic, progressive agenda and wasn’t inciting violence. “I absolutely don’t want to harm anybody,” Griffin said. “I don’t agree with the Democrat platform.”

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