State Ethics Commission sues Apodaca’s dark money operation

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The State Ethics Commission on Friday sued a dark money group and its president, Jeff Apodaca, to force disclosure of the sources behind the money paying for political advertising in support of legislative candidates running in the June 4 primary election. 

The New Mexico Project registered as a domestic nonprofit corporation in New Mexico last fall, and has since spent thousands of dollars on political advertising. But the group hasn’t identified its donors.

In its 49-page complaint to the state’s Second Judicial District in Bernalillo County, the commission wrote that it is bringing the action to “stop Defendants’ ongoing efforts to frustrate the public’s right to know,” citing 2019 reforms to the state’s Campaign Reporting Act that attempt to eliminate “dark money.” 

Those changes specifically targeted “independent expenditures” for disclosure – money that groups spend on political advertising without input from candidates. 

To make its case, the commission draws heavily upon Apodaca’s own words made through numerous media outlets, including the KKOB radio shows of Bob Clark and T.J. Trout, and a column by Apodaca published in The Santa Fe New Mexican. 

It noted that Apodaca used the term “independent expenditure” to describe the group’s spending, on Clark’s May 1 radio show: ​​“We’re an educational independent expenditure. So we’re going in and educating the voters on what we need to do to get out and vote and vote for the right candidates.” 

Citing Apodaca’s statements on that same show that his group can raise as much as it wants without having to disclose donors, the commission disagreed: “TNMP is mistaken; the Campaign Reporting Act requires TNMP to give New Mexicans basic information about the sources of the money TNMP is using to influence their votes.”

The complaint points to $10,000 paid to Cumulus Media for radio ads, noting that the memo line on the image of the check filed with the Federal Communications Commission by the radio stations states “Radio Ad – Primary.” The complaint also describes 33 Facebook ads placed by the group to support candidates. 

The commission asks that the court order the group to register as a political committee, which under state law must disclose donors, or alternatively, that either the group or Apodaca be ordered to simply report the sources of the money spent on the political advertising.  

New Mexico In Depth attempted through phone and email to reach Apodaca two weeks ago to ask why he had not disclosed the New Mexico Project’s donors. On Friday afternoon, it emailed and used social media to ask if he would disclose those donors now that the State Ethics Commission has sued him and the group.  As of Friday afternoon, he had not responded to New Mexico In Depth. 

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