Democrats and Republicans locked in highly charged battles over problems at the Albuquerque Public Schools and the work of the state auditor, among other issues, put their guns down over the weekend, at least temporarily, after Secretary of State Dianna Duran was charged with abusing the New Mexico’s campaign finance system.
The allegations come from the office of Attorney General Hector Balderas, a Democrat who accuses Duran, a Republican, of fraud, embezzlement, money laundering and other charges. Duran allegedly used funds intended for her campaign instead for personal use — apparently including gambling.
Instead of responding to the charges by accusing Balderas of partisan motives, the state’s top Republicans issued statements that some interpreted as placing distance between themselves and Duran — or at least not wanting to be viewed as defending her.
“We respect Dianna Duran and her legal team’s rights to present the facts and defend these allegations,” said Deborah Maestas, who chairs the Republican Party of New Mexico. “However if allegations are true, she needs to be fully accountable under the law. The attorney general must hold elected officials of both parties to the same legal and ethical standards without partisan bias.”
Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, issued a similar statement after meeting with Balderas.
“These allegations are deeply troubling and concerning, and all relevant state agencies have and will continue to assist the attorney general throughout the process,” Martinez said. “It’s important that New Mexicans understand that no one is above the law and that every New Mexican is treated equally under our system.”
Democrats weren’t saying much at all, though Doña Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins posted a comment on NMPolitics.net’s Facebook page in response to those who were criticizing Republicans.
“In all fairness, do not blame the Republican Party for this,” Ellins, a Democrat, wrote. “Whodda known?”
Duran isn’t accused of stealing public money. She’s accused of taking advantage of the campaign finance system to illegally use money donated to her campaign. Investigators allege several instances in which checks intended to be campaign donations were deposited into Duran’s personal bank account. And according to the criminal complaint, about $430,000 was electronically debited from accounts controlled by Duran at several New Mexico casinos in 2013 and 2014.
Duran’s office is responsible for policing ethics and campaign finance reporting in New Mexico, which makes the allegations against her even more stunning to many.
Some politicians and officials were wondering what’s next: Would Duran resign? If not, would the N.M. House of Representatives, which is controlled by Republicans, initiate impeachment proceedings?
Some were also noting that, in a statement given to NMPolitics.net Friday, Duran’s attorney didn’t deny the allegations. Erlinda Ocampo Johnson instead alleged “potential violations of the law” in the way Balderas’ office investigated. Johnson said she would be filing a motion to dismiss the complaint.
Common Cause ‘shocked’
Viki Harrison, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, said the organization was “shocked” by the allegations against the state official in charge of “the implementation of campaign finance laws, ethics enforcement for candidates and lobbyists, and the operation of elections across the state.”
“These are critical functions in our state government, and we were very encouraged to read Gov. Martinez’s statement ensuring that ‘all relevant state agencies have and will continue to assist the attorney general throughout the process,'” Harrison said.
“These charges are serious, and we are hopeful for a quick and fair outcome in court so this important office can get back to business and the state is not dragged through a long process that further deteriorates public trust in our elected officials,” she said.
‘Wow. Just wow.’
Meanwhile, during NMPolitics.net’s Facebook discussions, some New Mexicans commented about yet another politician being charged with serious crimes. Duran joins a long list of New Mexico elected officials from the past decade or so to face criminal allegations.
“Wow. Just wow. The NM political scene is like a corrupt onion,” wrote Allison Smith of Carlsbad. “I hope more and more layers keep getting peeled away.”
In recent years most politicians facing criminal charges have been Democrats. The case against Duran is noteworthy in part because GOP candidates have campaigned against state-government corruption, attributing it to decades of Democratic control.
That may make it even more difficult for Republicans to defend Duran now.
Still, one prominent Republican — Lori English, president of the Doña Ana Federation of Republican Women — complained on Facebook about those rushing to judge Duran.
“Give time and due process a chance,” English wrote. “Let’s hear both sides.”
Meanwhile, Roy Lemons of Belen said, “If she is found guilty, her next term should be in prison.”