Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Heather Wilson Vote-buying Scandal Paper Trail

NM Secretary of State Marry Herrera is racing to complete the probe into the state GOP's vote-buying scandal

Herrera said she's never heard of campaigns paying for people to attend party conventions; calls the practice "very odd."

Exclusive interview with Herrera!

The paper trail: Copies of the checks that Wilson's campaign wrote to convention attendees are headed to the AG's Office.

Those checks might be the reason Wilson's Senate campaign fessed up to paying

By Dennis Domrzalski

New Mexico Secretary of State Mary Herrera said her office is working closely and quickly with the state Attorney General’s Office to finish the investigation into the state Republican Party’s vote-buying scandal.

The agencies want the investigation completed before the state GOP’s statewide convention on Saturday, Herrera said late Tuesday in an exclusive interview with this blog.

Herrera also said she was troubled by the allegations that the
campaigns—including Congresswoman Heather Wilson’s U.S. Senate campaign—had paid people to attend the Bernalillo County GOP’s ward conventions on Feb. 17 and vote for certain delegates.

“It’s something new—people being paid to get to conventions. I’ve never heard of it. I’ve been attending (Democratic Party) ward and state conventions since I’ve been 18 and I’ve never heard of anything like this. Now we have paying people to do it. It sees very odd,” Herrera said during the face-to-face interview in Albuquerque.

And new evidence emerged in the case that offers a reason why Wilson’s campaign suddenly admitted to paying for five people to attend the conventions after initially refusing to comment on the allegations of vote buying at the Feb. 17 Bernalillo County GOP’s ward conventions: a paper trail.

Wilson’s campaign paid at least four people with checks. Those checks went to four people to attend conventions in Bernalillo County wards 31, 23 and 24.

The AG’s office is expected to get copies of those checks today.

“We are working fast because their convention is Saturday, and we are working closely with the Attorney General’s office,” Herrera said.

GOP Party Chair Confirms Investigation

Bernalillo County Republican Party Chairman Fernando C. de Baca confirmed that he had been called by the Secretary of State’s office on Tuesday morning about the vote-buying allegations and that he talked to Bureau of Elections chief Daniel Miera for more than an hour about the issue.

“I was called by the head of the Bureau of Elections. He asked me about the convention procedures and asked if I had seen any checks written by Heather Wilson’s campaign and if the checks had any names,” C. de Baca said.

“I told him that there were four checks, that they were made out to the Bernalillo County Republican Party and that they had no names. He told me he would need copies of them, that he would be meeting with representatives of the Attorney General’s Office and that they were conducting an investigation.

“I informed this party’s executive board about the allegations and that there was an ongoing investigation of the matter by Secretary of State’s Office.”

Wilson’s Campaign Checks

Copies of the checks written by Wilson’s Senate campaign exist because the Bernalillo County GOP keeps meticulous records of all money it receives. All checks the party receives, as well as all large amounts of cash—are photocopied. That’s right; the party even photocopies large bills and records their serial numbers! In most cases, the party can trace specific bills to specific donors.

The investigators have asked for all the county party’s convention records so they can try to match Wilson’s check numbers to specific attendees. The party’s records include lists of all convention attendees, if they paid, and how they paid—whether by check or cash. So it shouldn’t take long for investigators to match the checks with names.

Wilson’s checks were written to the county GOP. Each one was for $30, which was the convention registration fee, and none mentioned that the purpose of the money was to pay for people to attend the conventions.

Two checks were received from Ward 31 in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights, and one each came in from Wards 23 and 24.

The checks were the large, business-type design. The check from Ward 24 was numbered 7291, while the one from Ward 23 was numbered 7292—which shows they were written in sequence. The two from Ward 31 were numbered 7254 and 7263. That interruption in sequence could lead investigators to ask whether Wilson’s campaign wrote checks to convention attendees in other counties. It’s not clear if the checks were written on the day of the convention. If they were written days before the convention, investigators might start looking at just how premeditated the vote-buying effort was.

Dave Cargo Vindicated

The Wilson campaign checks vindicate former New Mexico Governor Dave Cargo, whom the state GOP has tried to smear in recent days as a disloyal Republican who was angry because he wasn’t elected a delegate to the March 15 convention.

Dave Cargo and his wife, Ida Jo (left)--photo by Mark Bralley

The 31st Ward is where the controversy over the vote-buying scandal erupted. Cargo was the ward’s chairman, and he’s the one who went to the news media with allegations that certain campaigns had paid people’s registration fees for the conventions, which were held to nominate delegates to the state GOP’s March 15 statewide nominating convention. Those delegates to the statewide convention will vote on which candidates will be on the party’s June primary election ballot. Cargo also said he heard people at his ward convention say they had been paid by certain campaigns $35-an-hour to attend the function.

State GOP officials blasted the 79-year-old Cargo after he made the allegations. And, when then-KKOB Radio afternoon drive time news anchor Laura MacCallum aired stories about Cargo’s complaints and the alleged vote-buying scheme, state party officials and Wilson campaign operatives called the station to complain that Cargo was a disgruntled loser who had no credibility.

KKOB News Director Pat Allen eventually killed MacCallum’s stories on the subject, saying in a bizarre memo that the stories weren’t valid because other news outlets and bloggers had not picked them up.

MacCallum resigned in protest.

Cargo has also said that the vote-buying scheme is a fourth-degree felony under New Mexico law. The law says it's a crime for someone to over a bribe for a vote and to accept a bribe to vote a certain way.

Cargo said the checks vindicate his allegations and prove that state Republican Party operatives "are a closed little group who operate on the basis of hate."

"This happened right in my ward, which is what I said," Cargo added. "They pait me as being disloyal and they were the ones doing the corrputing. Instead of admitting what they did, they tried to smear me."

And the Ward 24 caucus was where state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, R-Albuquerque, said she had that people had been paid by certain campaigns to attend.

State GOP officials have said that the convention fees were legitimate charges because they paid to rent a ballroom at the Albuquerque Marriott where the conventions were held.

Checks Could Cause Wilson Reporting Problems

How Wilson’s campaign reports the checks on its campaign finance reports to the Federal Elections Commission could eventually be of some interest. Will it call them donations to the Bernalillo County Republican Party, or will it be honest and say the money was paid for people to attend ward conventions and vote a certain way?

Cargo says that in the eys of the FEC, "buying votes is not a legitimate campaign expense."

Investigators might eventually be looking at that, as well.


Anonymous said...

You are an idiot! Duh, Wilson's people admitted a while back that they paid entry fee's for people who could not. That is hardly vote buying. You look like a heartless dumb johnny come lately with this post.

Anonymous said...

From Heath:

"Wilson campaign spokeswoman Whitney Cheshire told me the campaign did pay the $30 entrance fee into the convention for five people “for whom paying party fees was a hardship. That is traditionally done and is allowed under the rules.”"

Dennis you are anything but a legitimate news reporter!

Anonymous said...

Heath and the prior comment author are the quintesential "right wing tools". They typify just how corrupt the republican party has become.

Respectable and self respecting republicans like Govenor Cargo and myself are disheartend and appauled by the infiltration and take over of our party by "Rovian tacticians".

Its sad to say that Republicans in general and Heather Wilson / Darren White in particular deserve to lose and lose big. I will not vote for either.

benito said...

Tough words from the first two "anonymous".

The people attending said they had no intention of being involved in the process, they were even dull enough to basically spill the beans about the geniuses that paid them.

Corruption has seen brighter servants.

Anonymous said...

Good job on getting an interview with Herrera. Most of the public has to settle for that pleasant gentleman Mr. Flores who is apparently modeling his position after Tony Snow, or thinks he's the second coming of Ari Fleischer.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 2, this is Anonymous 1. As a true conservative and not a neo-con as you obviously are. Let me clarify a couple of things for you.
1) I do not support Heather Wilson.

2)Gov. Cargo is only a self-respecting Republican, but other than self respect he does not have the respect of almost anybody else. He is known as one of the worst and most corrupt governors the state of NM has ever seen. He openly tried to hire or appoint convicted murderers during his tenure as Gov. He invented Rovian politics long before there was even a Karl Rove.

3. If anybody is a tool, it is somebody who believes Lonesome Dave or would call him any form of respectable.

4. What went on isn't corruption, what went on is a bunch of sore losers who didn't get be delegates. The didn't want to play for the winning team (surprise surprise the winning teams were the ones that worked harder) so they cried about. No corruption is what went on during Gov. Cargo's tenure as Gov. not by 4 entry fees being paid.

5. Wow yeah Gov. Cargo great Republican, the only thing better were if it were Carruthers that was making the claims (just so we are clear Carruthers raised more taxes than any other Republican governor and more than most Dem govenor's)

Who's the tool now?

Anonymous said...

It's odd how Domrzalski continues to hold Cargo up as though his word cannot be questioned, yet refuses to report that Cargo himself said the people who were paid $35/hr to attend were paid by Pearce.

Anonymous said...

Hugs and kisses to my favorite ex-governor. Rock on, Dave.

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