Ethics agency reaches settlement with PAC active in 2022 legislative race

Aug. 1—SANTA FE — A political action committee has agreed to pay a $1,000 civil penalty and disclose its financial activity in a new report after New Mexico's independent ethics agency accused it of violating campaign finance laws in a 2022 legislative race.

The settlement comes after the New Mexico Values PAC mailed campaign ads opposing Democrat Susan Herrera after she sought reelection to a House seat in northern New Mexico, according to ethics documents.

She was one of several progressives who withstood primary challenges in 2022.

The New Mexico Values PAC disclosed just $2,500 in contributions and spending — including a donation from the Community Empowerment Fund to cover the cost of mailing ads through the Postal Service, according to state records.

But the State Ethics Commission said it's unlikely the PAC fully disclosed its activity. The disclosures, according to the commission, didn't include the cost of preparing and printing campaign materials.

The ethics agency also said the timing of the PAC's filings last year suggest it had tried to conceal its activity until after the June primary.

Rather than pursue litigation, however, the ethics commission agreed to settle the case for a $1,000 civil penalty and additional filings by the PAC, according to ethics documents. The group has until Aug. 15 to register with the Secretary of State's Office as an independent expenditure filer and disclose its spending and donations during the 2022 election cycle, according to the agreement.

Who's behind the PAC isn't necessarily clear. Its treasurer is listed as Sara Ridley, an Austin-based political strategist who has worked for Republican Rick Perry, the former U.S. energy secretary.

The Community Empowerment Fund, the sole donor to the PAC, lists a Downtown Albuquerque address and identifies its officers as Douglas Turner and Joshua Smith.

The Journal wasn't immediately able to reach someone from the PAC for comment.

Herrera, who lives in Embudo and has represented District 41 since 2019, won the Democratic primary by 18 percentage points last year over Marlo Martinez. She was unopposed in the general election.