SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – In the heat of last year’s election, then-candidate for state treasurer Laura Montoya faced an ethics complaint from former State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg, who raised the alarm that Montoya may have received thousands of dollars without properly reporting those funds. Now, months after Montoya won the election, the State Ethics Commission says Montoya did violate campaign rules.
The commission’s hearing officer, Alan C. Torgerson, concluded that Montoya’s campaign took a $10,000 donation from companies managed by property developer Gary Plante and reported the donation as two: one for $5,200 and one for $4,800. The ethics commission also ruled that Montoya’s campaign reported those donations as coming from a political action committee, rather than properly reporting them as coming from Plante’s companies – the ethics committee says they were effectively straw donations, although Montoya claimed she didn’t know where the money had come from.
“Straw donor contributions, like those uncovered in this administrative case, undermine transparency in our elections,” State Ethics Commission Executive Director Jeremy Farris said in a press release. “If wealthy individuals want to give thousands of dollars to candidates for office, that’s their right; but they can’t do it in secret. New Mexicans also have a right to know who is spending money to influence their votes.”
The ethics committee has ordered Montoya to pay a penalty of $1,000 for the violation. Ken Stalter, an attorney representing Montoya, disagrees with the ethics committee’s decision.
“Something like probably should never have been brought,” Stalter told KRQE News 13. “But we are encouraged that the hearing officer found no ‘bad faith’ by Treasurer Montoya. That’s something that we have maintained throughout this: that she was always acting in good faith and attempting to follow the law.”
Stalter says the ethics investigation is a distraction from the work Montoya should be doing as treasurer and that they are looking into options to appeal the decision.