Friday, March 21, 2008

NM Democrats buying votes, too

NM Democrats are buying votes, too

Lujan and Wiviott offer delegates food and motel rooms

Dave Cargo says AG won’t investigate vote-buying charges because he doesn’t want to hurt Dems

By Dennis Domrzalski

Former New Mexico
Gov. Dave Cargo says he now knows why the state Attorney General’s Office seems to be dragging its feet in investigating allegations of vote buying at the February Bernalillo County Republic Party’s pre-primary nominating convention.

Democrats have been engaging in the same kind of vote-buying behavior, and Democrat AG Gary King doesn’t want his party to get caught up in the mess.

The Espanola-based Rio Grande Sun reported Thursday that at least two candidates for the Third Congressional District seat being vacated by Rep. Tom Udall, D-NM—PRC Commissioner Ben Ray Lujan and Developer Don Wiviott—were rewarding delegates who voted for them at the Party’s March 15 pre-primary convention with food and hotel rooms.

The AG’s Office said last week that it wasn’t investigating the allegations of GOP vote-buying because political party elections are private affairs that aren’t covered by the New Mexico Election Code.

Cargo sees another reason for Democrat King’s refusal to investigate:

“They don’t want it to slip over into the Democrats,” the former governor said. “I’ve said that if they looked at the Republicans they’d have to look at the Democrats. It’s amazing that they aren’t cracking down.”

Here’s what the Sun reported:
Gifts for Delegates

The financial disparity between the top two candidates for Udall's seat and the rest of the field was made evident at the convention. Lujan has received broad support with the help of his powerful father, state Speaker of the House Ben Lujan (D-Nambé).

Lujan's staff swarmed the Santa Ana Star Center with ear pieces and walkie-talkies and handed out food coupons for pizza and hotdogs to delegates who voted for him.

Wiviott's staff and volunteers also took measures to ensure Wiviott's delegates were well looked after.

San Juan County delegate Ivan William Pfeifer had arrived the day before the event and stayed the night at a Holiday Inn Express in Bernalillo, care of Wiviott's campaign.

"We were very much surprised it was even offered," said Pfeifer, who donned a blue Wiviott shirt at the convention.

Caroline Buerkle, Wiviott's campaign spokeswoman, said the campaign provided rooms for about 20 delegates. Two-hundred delegates voted for Wiviott, who has used his own money to build a war chest worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"The overwhelming majority of delegates got here completely on their own," Buerkle said.

Nothing in campaign finance law explicitly prohibits candidates from providing lodging for delegates, and the Secretary of State’s Office deferred any questions on the matter to the Attorney General’s office.

“We have a similar situation regarding the paying of registration fees at the (Republican Convention),” Secretary of State spokesman James Flores said. Buerkle said the campaign was not worried about any perception the rooms brought.

"What do you do for the delegate who can't afford to come?" Buerkle said. Pfeifer said he had not been swayed by the free lodging.

Cargo, a Republican who brought the allegations of Republican vote buying to the news media and to the state Secretary of State’s Office, said what Lujan’s and Wiviott’s campaigns did at the convention amounted to vote buying.

“I consider it vote buying. What else did they pay, their back taxes?” Cargo asked. “It amounts to blatantly buying votes.”

The AG’s Office told us last week that it doesn’t think the Republic vote-buying scandal warrants an investigation because political party elections are private affairs that aren’t covered by the New Mexico Election Code. The election law says it is a fourth-degree felony to offer someone a bribe to vote a certain way, or to accept a bribe to vote.

King’s office might be wrong in its opinion that party elections aren’t covered by the state’s election law. Here’s what the Election Code says about party elections:

1-7-1. Political parties; condition for use of the ballot. (1969)
All nominations of candidates for public office in New Mexico made by political parties shall be made pursuant to the Election Code [1-1-1 NMSA 1978]. No political party shall be permitted to have the names of its candidates printed on any election ballot unless and until it has qualified as provided in the Election Code.

Cargo has been pushing for an investigation into allegations of the Republican vote buying efforts. Heather Wilson’s U.S. Senate campaign has admitted that it paid the $30 registration fees for five people to attend the Bernalillo County GOP’s mid-February convention in Albuquerque. Attendees to the convention elected delegates to the state GOP’s March 15 nominating convention.

NM SoS Mary Herrera, a Democrat, has been trying to investigate the allegations of Republican vote buying. But her office is represented by the AG, and any charges in the matter would have to be brought by the AG.

“I did hear back from the AG and they told me that they don’t have a date when they will make a determination,” Herrera said Thursday. “Our legal counsel (from the AG’s Office) says he is still meeting with his authorities and that they don’t have a determination yet. There’s nothing I can do until I get a determination from the AG.”

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