A Democratic state senator and a Democratic candidate for the Senate admitted Wednesday that they didn’t immediately disable fundraising mechanisms on their websites during the special session, when legislative candidates are barred from soliciting money.
Both acknowledged soon after the state Republican Party filed an ethics complaint against them that active fundraising links had remained on their websites for several days.
“We messed up. We made an error, and as soon as we saw that we took it down,” Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, said in a phone interview. He said he did not receive any online contributions during the prohibited fundraising period.
Greg Frazier, a candidate in Albuquerque Senate District 21, admitted to a technical violation. He said he had instructed a surrogate to remove a “donate” link from his website before Gov. Susana Martinez called the special session last Thursday. Frazier said the surrogate removed the “donate” link from the top of his webpage before the governor’s proclamation, but the link then reappeared on the bottom of the page.
“We turned it off in one spot but it was missed in another spot,” Frazier said. Like Soules, he said it was a mistake and that he did not receive any contributions during that time.
Republicans also filed a complaint against Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-
Speaking by phone Wednesday, Ivey-Soto said he removed from his website any possibility to contribute money to his campaign in anticipation that the governor would call the special session. He said it is not a violation of the Campaign Reporting Act for lawmakers or candidates to maintain a fundraising button or link as long as it does not allow visitors to actually contribute money.
The state Democratic Party has filed a complaint of its own against Rep. Nora Espinoza, R-Roswell, who is running for secretary of state, saying she also maintained a “donate” option on her website after the session was called.
Espinoza’s campaign manager, former state Sen. Rod Adair, said Wednesday that the donation button on Espinoza’s website was disabled before the session started. He provided an affidavit from the technician who did the work. The affidavit identifies the technician as Espinoza’s colleague, state Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Belen. Fajardo said complaining Democrats relied on an “old link” that they had saved from an email or a solicitation made before the ban on fundraising for the special session.
One possible issue in the complaints is a provision of the Campaign Reporting Act that prohibits legislators or public employees from soliciting contributions during either a regular legislative session or after the governor’s proclamation calling a special session.
Ivey-Soto said the back-and-forth complaints are “gotcha” politics in an election cycle and distract from the purpose of the special session. Martinez called the session Sept. 29 to address a budget deficit of $220 million from the fiscal year that ended in June and a projected deficit expected to reach $430 million in the current budget year. Martinez also added a package of crime-and-punishment bills to the agenda.
In Ivey-Soto’s case, the Republicans’ complaint stems from the fact that his website still has a “donate” listing, though it only leads to a link that says, “The page you were looking for is not found.”
A random search Wednesday of some 20 other websites of lawmakers from both parties revealed a handful who still had “donate” or “contribute” links, including Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, and Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe. But as with Ivey-Soto’s webpage, those links led to pages that no longer exist or to a message that says the candidate is not currently accepting contributions.
Viki Harrison, executive director of the campaign watchdog group Common Cause New Mexico, said a “donate” or “contribute” link in and of itself is not a cause for concern, as long as it does not give people the chance to give money during the prohibited period.
“I am so happy that when you click on those links they go nowhere — to a dead page,” she said Wednesday. “I don’t think there is a problem there.”
She said little has been done to update the Campaign Reporting Act in the past 20 years and that lawmakers need to look at the issue of websites in an age of advancing technology.
Ken Ortiz, spokesman for Secretary of State Brad Winter, said his office had received letters of complaint from both political parties regarding improper fundraising. He said the office will evaluate each complaint.
“There are a lot of possible issues,” Ortiz said. “Is the website still active where you can contribute? Has it been disabled? There are some that say ‘donate’ but when you click to donate nothing happens because the page is dead.”
Soules said he thinks legislators may have to remove donation pages from their websites to avoid any conflict with the Campaign Reporting Act.
Contact Robert Nott at 505-986-3021 or [email protected].