Days before Democratic primary voters will nominate a candidate to appear on the November ballot for Doña Ana County district attorney, challenger James Dickens is accusing incumbent Mark D’Antonio of accepting an illegal loan to help fund his campaign.
It’s not clear whether the loan is illegal, but the allegation continues the heated rhetoric that has characterized the race.
On Thursday, candidates had to file their final campaign finance reports before Tuesday’s primary. Dickens continues to have a fundraising lead — $27,895 raised to D’Antonio’s $20,277. D’Antonio’s newest report includes a $7,137 loan from his fiancé, Chiaki Miyazaki.
New Mexico caps contributions and loans from third parties at $2,500 per election cycle. “Loans from anyone other than from personal funds must comply with the contribution limits,” said Kenneth Ortiz, chief of staff in the Secretary of State’s Office (SOS).
Dickens said if D’Antonio is allowed to use the loaned money, the state’s contribution limits are effectively worthless.
“My opponent’s flagrant disregard of finance law is ethically and criminally in violation of state law,” Dickens said in a news release. “If every candidate could take loan contributions from third parties, the campaign contribution limits would never have any effect on campaigns. Someone taking a loan from a third party could then pay the contributor back from funds raised from other individuals or simply forgive the loan made to the campaign after the election.”
The incumbent pushed back against Dickens’ allegation. D’Antonio and Miyazaki “share assets, including the money that was loaned to the campaign,” said Patrick Hayes, a spokesman for D’Antonio’s campaign.
“If the secretary of state believes there was an error in how things were reported, Mark will apologize for the mistake and submit an amended report,” Hayes said. “However, James’ attack on the DA’s fiancé hours after she underwent a mastectomy is as disgusting as it is desperate. If she wasn’t in the hospital battling cancer, she would be defending the contribution.”
Ortiz hasn’t responded to a foll0w-up email asking if loans that come from shared assets are allowed.
Dickens’ campaign submitted an ethics complaint about the loan to the SOS late Thursday. But state law creates a blackout period in which no complaints can be filed in the eight days before an election, so Ortiz said the complaint would likely be rejected. Dickens can choose to re-submit it after Tuesday’s election.
In the meantime, the SOS has made progress on two other complaints filed in the DA’s race.
One complaint, which Dickens’ campaign staffer Monica Gomez filed, relates to a flyer attacking Dickens that was distributed a dinner hosted by the Democratic Party of Doña Ana County in February. The flyer doesn’t identify who paid for it — even though state law requires disclosure.
D’Antonio responded that the flyer was not distributed by him or anyone with his campaign. “I did not authorize anyone with my campaign to display the ‘flyer’ or make it available to the public,” D’Antonio wrote to the SOS.
The SOS says it can’t take any action. While state law requires disclosure, the law is unenforceable.
“While the secretary of state requests voluntary compliance with the disclosure laws as laid out in the Campaign Reporting Act, based on a 1995 opinion of the United States Supreme Court, the New Mexico attorney general issued an opinion letter in 1997 confirming that the statutes were unconstitutional and unenforceable,” Amy Bailey, the SOS general counsel, wrote in a June 1 letter to Gomez.
Some state lawmakers have tried in recent years, without success, to pass a law updating New Mexico’s Campaign Reporting Act to make its provisions on disclosure constitutional.
The other complaint relates to Dickens using his access as a prosecutor in the 12th Judicial District based in Alamogordo to compile statistics from an internal case management system relating to D’Antonio’s time in office — and then using those statistics in his campaign.
“I was outraged to find that Mr. James Dickens is guilty of a serious ethical violation and I demand that the matter be investigated and that he be held accountable for his actions,” D’Antonio’s complaint to the SOS states.
Dickens has told NMPolitics.net that the information is public record and he is confident he did nothing wrong. And he accused D’Antonio of attacking a whistleblower who is exposing “his office’s abysmal record.”
Ortiz said the SOS has asked Dickens for a formal response to D’Antonio’s complaint. The matter is pending.
One final issue to wrap up: Earlier in the campaign D’Antonio filed his second campaign finance report, which was due on May 9, three days late. State law allowed a fine of up to $50 per day it was late, but Ortiz said D’Antonio, by filing his report on May 12, brought his campaign “into voluntary compliance, and the SOS did not issue a fine.” The matter is closed.
The winner of Tuesday’s Democratic primary will face a Republican Brad Cates, a former state and federal prosecutor and state representative, in November. Cates is dealing with his own controversy over images that were posted on a personal website.