Commentary: “We’ve got laws in this state, OK?” PRC candidate Ben Hall asked, just getting warmed up.
“We’ve got election laws about how much you can contribute and how much you can collect, what you do with it and what you don’t do with it. Who in the hell enforces the law? Is it the attorney general? Is it the governor? Is it the secretary of state? I’ve tried to call the secretary of state and the attorney general already this morning. Nobody answers.”
I didn’t have an answer either.
The Secretary of State's Office said that Hall demanded to speak only to the secretary herself, who was not available at the time,and refused offers of assistance from the staff. They also said no candidate has filed an official complaint.
Hall is one of five candidates, three Republicans and two Democrats, running for the Public Regulation Commission in District 5, and he has been on the wrong end of New Mexico’s system of frontier justice where alleged violations of campaign laws are aired publicly instead of officially adjudicated. He was the incumbent four years ago when newspaper stories alleged that he and his then-fiancé had paid themselves using funds from public financing.
This year, Hall alleges that donations accepted by incumbent Sandy Jones are illegal. Jones said all his donations are legal, but alleges those accepted by his Democratic opponent Steve Fischmann are not. Fischmann has made the same claims as Hall regarding donations made by lobbyists to Jones.
New Mexico law prohibits PRC candidates from accepting “anything of value, either directly or indirectly, from a person whose services to the public are regulated by the commission.”
Does the word “indirectly” prohibit donations from lobbyists?
The same statute also prohibits donations of more than $500. So, is it OK to give a whole bunch of $500 donations, as Affordable Solar has done for Jones?
The statute also prohibits candidates from accepting “anything from a regulated entity, affiliated interest or intervenor. For the purposes of this paragraph, a commissioner may accept allowable campaign contributions when campaigning for re-election.”
Does that mean donations from intervenors are OK during a campaign, as Fischmann claims, or are prohibited, as Jones claims? Taken literally, the law would seem to suggest that it’s OK for incumbents running for “re-election,” but not for challengers, who are only running for “election.”
All of this comes after a previous challenge questioning whether Fischmann met the vague requirements established by the Legislature as being qualified to run for the PRC. A district court decided that he did, but in these other disputes, nobody seems to know who the umpire is. Both campaigns said they have turned to the Secretary of State for help, but have received none. Jones said they typically refers questions back to the PRC.
“Probably the only thing that me and that guy (Fischmann) agree on is, whether its qualifications or this campaign stuff, it’s just not clear,” Jones said.
One final note. Several weeks ago, I wrote about a project my Leadership Las Cruces class was doing to help homeless students. We had our big event Thursday, and it was amazing how many people offered to help. Our contributions to the Project Link program at Las Cruces Public Schools will make a real difference for homeless students. Hopefully, we have also raised awareness to a problem people didn’t know about. Project Link will need more help in the years ahead.