Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

8-18 Legal Wrangling Over 2008 Election

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Another interesting new twist has been thrown into New Mexico's 2008 elections.
The first was the revelation that candidates at the county level are on the ballot illegally because the secretary of state's office did not require them to collect petition signatures to submit when they filed.
Since this is the only statewide news source that has caught on to this glaring omission, much of the state still does not know about it. Inside the Capitol revealed the situation on August 1 and as of the time this is being written, no one is saying anything publicly.
A district court hearing was held in Santa Fe on July 30 on a complaint filed by the only candidate for county office in the state who was required to file signatures.
Because he was treated differently, the lid is about to come off an oversight by three secretaries of state over a period of 12 years since the law was changed. That means a clever lawyer could argue that no action by those elected officials is valid.
The district court quickly decided against Lincoln County sheriff candidate Steve Sederwall, keeping him off the ballot, but the judge offered to help fast track the case to the state Supreme Court. The decision has been appealed and will be heard on August 20.
At that hearing, the secretary of state's office, represented by an assistant attorney general, took the position that Sederwall should be allowed on the ballot. The only opposition was from the Lincoln County attorney -- and the judge.
It will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court handles the appeal. The court could deny Sederwall a position on the ballot by saying the law is the law. But then what is to be done with all the other candidates and public officials who didn't follow the law? Does the Supreme Court give them an "oops there?"
I'm sure there are other solutions that better minds than mine can devise but I still worry about the defense attorney who argues that the sheriff who arrested his client, did not attain his office according to law.
The other election twist has to do with another lawsuit. It has received considerable attention. Three incumbent Democratic state lawmakers have filed suit alleging election fraud against the opponents who beat them in the June primary and asking for removal from the ballot.
The losses were surprising because they occurred to three longtime political powerhouses who lost by substantial margins. In each case non-profit organizations sent mailings to Democrats in those legislative districts criticizing the lawmakers on issues such as ethics, the environment and ties to big business.
The suit, filed by Sen. Shannon Robinson, one of the defeated incumbents, alleges that the non-profits pushed their limits impermissibly into the political realm. As such, they should have filed political contribution reports revealing the sources and amounts of contributions.
By not revealing the source of their funding, contributors were able to make tax deductible contributions to a non-profit while not having their names disclosed.
The lawsuit itself doesn't have much of a chance, according to my legal advisers, but it is making alleged election irregularities public, much as the Sederwall suit will be doing soon.
One revelation is that these same non-profits are targeting other incumbents in the general election. Mailings have been received by constituents of Republican Sens. Lee Rawson, of Las Cruces, and Diane Snyder, of Albuquerque. Democratic Sen. Lidio Rainaldi, of Gallup, also is targeted although he isn't seeking reelection.
Attorney General Gary King has become involved in this issue too, asking Secretary of State Mary Herrera to require that these non-profits file campaign expenditure reports.
The non-profits being mentioned are New Mexico Youth Organized and its parent, the Center for Civic Policy, both of which call themselves "progressive."
The attorney general has threatened suit if the secretary of state does not require campaign filing. The non-profits have threatened suit if the attorney general doesn't get off their back.
MON, 8-18-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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