Teachers union reports making contributions during special session

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A teachers union that lobbies the Legislature donated $3,900 to 18 lawmakers or legislative candidates during the special legislative session earlier this month, an apparent violation of state law.

New Mexico In Depth examined reports filed earlier this month by candidates and political action committees, selecting contributions reported as received or donated on the first four days of the special session: Sept. 30, Oct. 1, 2 and 3.

Legislators or those running for state House or Senate seats are prohibited from soliciting donations but can accept them during regular or special legislative sessions, such as the one from Sept. 30 through Oct. 6.

However, the law prohibits lobbyists or their employers from making contributions during a legislative session.

The American Federation of Teachers of New Mexico listed 18 contributions to lawmakers or legislative candidates for a total of $3,900 made on Oct. 3 in the report the PAC filed on Oct. 5.

Sen. John Pinto, D-Gallup, and Rep. Nick Salazar, D-Ohkay Owingeh, were the only lawmakers or legislative candidates to list the donations on their reports. Each listed a $200 contribution received on Oct. 2.

AFT President Stephanie Ly said the teachers union automatically sends campaign checks to candidates it endorses at the beginning of each month. Ly said she believed that is consistent with the law.

“Our interpretation is that legislators cannot solicit contributions,” she said. “No legislator solicited those contributions during session.”

New Mexico law states: “It is unlawful during the prohibited period for any lobbyist or lobbyist’s employer to contribute to or act as an agent or intermediary for political contributions to or arrange for the making of political contributions to the campaign funds of any statewide elected official or legislator or any candidate for those offices.”

After being read the statute, Ly said, “We’ll have our attorneys look it up.”

Heather Ferguson, legislative director for Common Cause New Mexico, said the union should be familiar with the law.

“That was right in the middle of the prohibited period,” Ferguson said. “AFT should know well what the guidelines are for the prohibited period since they are also the lobbying arm of the union.”

Fred Nathan, executive director of Think New Mexico, donated $100 to Republican House Speaker Don Tripp on Oct. 3, according to Tripp’s report and Nathan’s original lobbyist filing. Nathan is registered as a lobbyist with the nonpartisan think tank he leads.

He said the check was dated Sept. 25, and one of his staff people mistakenly recorded the date on his lobbyist filing. The filing has been amended.

“I sent it before the special session,” Nathan said of the check.

The Committee on Individual Responsibility, a PAC operated by New Mexico trial attorneys, reported giving $5,400 to two Democratic House candidates on Oct. 1: Candie Sweetser, of Deming, and GloJean Todacheene, of Shiprock.

Both candidates reported receiving the contributions before the special session — Todacheene reported receiving the COIR contribution on Sept. 25, while Sweetser reported receiving her contribution on Sept. 29.

And the National Education Association of New Mexico reported giving Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, $250 on Oct. 3. Padilla didn’t report receiving the contribution in his report filed Oct. 10.

The New Mexico Secretary of State’s office hasn’t received any complaints about lobbyists or their employers making campaign donations during the special session, said Ken Ortiz, the agency’s chief of staff.

The office is investigating complaints made by the state Republican Party that two Democratic candidates failed to disable fundraising buttons on their websites, Ortiz said.

More than 40 legislators or potential legislators reported receiving nearly $111,000 in campaign contributions during the first four days — Sept. 30 through Oct. 3 — of the seven-day special legislative session.

It is legal for lawmakers or those running for the Legislature to accept unsolicited contributions during a regular or special session.

House Speaker Tripp and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez topped the list. Sanchez reported receiving $12,650, while Tripp listed $12,300 in donations.

More than half those candidates reported receiving contributions from groups employing lobbyists or lobbyists themselves during the prohibited period — from Sept. 30 through Oct. 6. Most of the lobbyists or employers reported making the donations on earlier dates.

Seven of the contributions couldn’t be located in Secretary of State political action committee or lobbyist filings.

Ferguson of Common Cause said lawmakers listing lobbyist-related contributions as coming during the session creates a poor perception, even if the dates are incorrect.

“In terms of what we’re doing to rebuild the public trust, this doesn’t help,” she said. “That still makes the public question whether or not they’re being influenced.”

Here’s a look at campaign contributions reported by candidates during the first four days of the special session. Reports filed in early November will cover the final three days of the session.

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