N.M. AG: Governor's spending on ads 'difficult to swallow'

Jessica M. Karmasek Apr. 1, 2011, 11:59am


SANTA FE, N.M. (Legal Newsline) - New Mexico Attorney General Gary King, in a letter to Secretary of State Dianna Duran, says he is "concerned" that her interpretation of the state's Campaign Reporting Act is "unnecessarily broad."

King, a Democrat, sent the three-page letter to Duran, a Republican, on Tuesday.

The attorney general is questioning whether Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, properly used campaign funds for radio ads that "seek to influence the Legislature's decision regarding laws that make driver's licenses available to illegal immigrants," according to the letter.

Aside from legislators, the Campaign Reporting Act does not authorize elected officials, including the governor, to use campaign money for expenditures related to their duties while in office.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Albert J. Lama, who wrote to Duran on behalf of King, said he fears that the secretary of state's interpretation "may open the door to the use of campaign contributions contrary to the Legislature's intent."

King's office said it sees the ads as lobbying more than campaigning.

"Campaign expenditures necessarily arise from or relate to a campaign. The purpose of a campaign is to convince voters to elect the candidate," Lama wrote.

"Evidently, the Committee is arguing that its expenditures for the radio ads were not to encourage the Legislature to enact laws that the Governor believed would benefit the state and its citizens, but were made merely to garner support for the Governor's reelection four years from now."

That, the Attorney General's Office said, is "difficult to swallow."

The circumstances and timing of the ads simply are not consistent with an election campaign, it told Duran.

"The ads are not directed at other potential candidates for governor, do not urge voters to support Governor Martinez as a candidate or vote against her opponents or otherwise attempt to influence an election," King's office wrote.

The Attorney General's Office is asking Duran to reconsider her determination.

Duran told The Associated Press on Thursday that her office hadn't yet received the letter. However, she said she stood by her decision.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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