Will Mary Jane Garcia’s troubles affect her race with Lee Cotter in the state Senate? UPDATE: “I can’t be there reading the law every time I travel”
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Mary Jane Garcia has been a Democratic state senator for 23 years and in her bid for a seventh term in the Roundhouse, she has a 3-to-1 edge in campaign contributions on her Republican rival, Lee Cotter. But will charges of campaign finance violations and a $1,200 fine jeopardize her chances of winning a seventh term?
On Tuesday (Oct. 17), the Secretary of State’s office levied the fine, citing 12 separate violations of the state’s Campaign Reporting Act after a review indicated Sen. Garcia double-dipped by paying herself in campaign cash for travel expenses for which she was also reimbursed by the state.
An investigation by the New Mexico Watchdog first reported Garcia’s questionable campaign reports and Cotter’s campaign treasurer filed a formal complaint with the Secretary of State’s office earlier this month.
On Wednesday Secretary of State Dianna Duran announced the fine and gave Garcia 10 days to provide an explanation of her conduct under penalty of perjury. In a letter sent to the senator, Duran wrote that the fine could be partially or fully waived “if a timely explanation is filed and good cause exists.” (You can read the letter to Garcia here.)
“Whatever determination she came up with, I will correct,” Garcia told the Las Cruces Sun-News Wednesday night. “I don’t want it to distract from my campaign.”
Will it hurt Garcia in the upcoming election and help her opponent?
“I certainly hope so,” Cotter said in a telephone interview with Capitol Report New Mexico. “We expect our elected officials to act with integrity, to be above reproach. She voted for this law that put this in and you think if someone sponsors or supports a law you know what’s in it.”
A voice mail message left with Sen. Garcia Thursday morning went unreturned. If she calls back, we’ll post her reaction.
Update: Gadi Schwartz of KOB-TV caught up with Garcia in Las Cruces Thursday and the senator told him, “I can’t be there reading the law every time I travel.” Here’s his story:
The Garcia vs. Cotter match marks the third time the two candidates have met in the general election for the senate seat in District 36 that makes up a large portion of Las Cruces and the town of Doña Ana. In 2008, Garcia defeated Cotter, receiving 54.8 percent of the vote and back in 2004, Garcia won with 58.7 percent.
But redistricting has altered District 36 somewhat and the “performance number” for Democrats is now 53.2 percent so the race could end up being a tight one come Nov. 6.
“The district has changed,” Cotter, a 58-year-old real estate investor said. “About 25 percent of the district has not voted for her before … I believe this year with a few minor changes and with redisticting, [my campaign] will be a suprise.”
But Garcia has a big money advantage.
The most recent campaign finance reports show that the 75-year-old Garcia has raised $33,237 compared to $11,219 for Cotter. It remains to be seen if Republicans and/or conservative political action committees start sending money Cotter’s way in light of Garcia getting her knuckles rapped by the Secretary of State.
“Yes, it’s a lopsided event,” Cotter said about his disadvantage in contributions, “but we do the best we can.”
Garcia is one of three Democratic Party legislators who have made headlines for allegedly violating campaign finance rules.
An investigation by KOB-TV revealed that Rep. Ray Begaye (D-Shiprock) pocketed more than $1,000 when he returned from a trip to the National Conference for State Legislators in Phoenix. Now the state Attorney General’s office is investigating the charges, which could include criminal proceedings.
In another investigation by the New Mexico Watchdog, questions were raised about Rep. Miguel Garcia (D-Albuquerque) using campaign expenses for massage treatment for a back injury as well as receiving payment for mileage for using his personal car on trips to the Roundhouse while records indicate he made those trips in whole or part by taking the Rail Runner.
Miguel Garcia is running against Republican Clara Peña in House District 14 while Begaye faces Republican Sharon Clahchischilliage in the race for the Senate seat in District 4 in the Four Corners area of the state.
Posted under Capitol Report.
Tags: Campaign Reporting Act, Capitol Report New Mexico, Clara Pena, Dianna Duran, KOB-TV, Las Cruces Sun-News, Lee Cotter, Mary Jane Garcia, Miguel Garcia, New Mexico Secretary of State's Office, New Mexico Watchdog, Ray Begaye, Sharon Clahchischilliage