A $350 payment made by PRC candidate Jerome Block Jr to the Attorney General’s constituent services coordinator for “mailout assistance” may have been illegal, SFR has discovered.
Block's October 14 campaign-finance filing reports that his campaign paid $350 to Cordy Medina on July 18, using public funds distributed by the Secretary of State's office for use exclusively during the general election cycle. However, according to AG spokesman Phil Sisneros, the "mailout" was conducted in March of this year, square in the middle of the primary election cycle.
"For your information, Ms. Medina is not involved in [Block's] campaign," Sisneros tells SFR. "Mr Block, as I understood it, owed her for postage and work on a small mailer since last March. He just recently paid her."
According to the Voter Action Act:
All money distributed to a certified candidate shall be used for that candidate’s campaign-related purposes in the election cycle in which the money was distributed.
Block received approximately $101,000 in public money for his campaign, about $36,000 of which was apportioned for his primary race. On his general election report, Block also reports making several hundred dollars in payments out of general election funds to Mescalero Apache Telecom Inc., his father's employer, for a Web site was in operation since January (i.e. throughout the primary cycle).
Depending on the interpretation of the law, Medina could be said to have violated the act by providing in-kind payments to Block during the primary. Sisneros denies that Medina committed any transgression. Neither, however, does he seemed very concerned that Block may have broken the law by paying her with general election money for work conducted during the primary cycle.
"I don't care what Jerome Block did in terms of how he paid her, unless it was an illegal act and sure, that is something that the Secretary of State is going to look into," Sisneros says. "If they deem that to have been a violation of law, then of course we would prosecute that."
Sisneros says Medina disclosed the payment shortly after a series of scandals broke regarding Block's campaign. He does not recall the exact date of her disclosure, but does describe her attitude as "very forthcoming."
Questions are now being raised not only to the legality of the payment, but the ethical implications of an AG employee working for a campaign that may soon be investigated officially by the AG's office for illegal campaign activities and spending.
This isn't the first time Medina has been called out regarding elections ethics.
In 2000, Medina took an unpaid leave of absence from her job as Santa Fe County's bureau of elections director after details emerged that she was also simultaneously a paid worker on Sen. Phil Griego's campaign, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
Sisneros says that working for the state and a campaign is not illegal as long as the employee doesn't use state resources for political purposes. As the "public face" for the AG, Medina fields calls from constituents, but Sisneros says she likely would not handle calls related to complaints against Block. As far as Sisneros knows, Medina has received no calls from citizens on the matter.
"Ms. Medina, whatever she did campaign-wise was done on her own time outside of state time," Sisneros says. "She doesn't use state resources."
That assertion in itself is worth investigating, considering a recent report from the Albuquerque Journal that a PRC employee working for Block's campaign had used his state phone during work hours to communicate with Block. The employee, Larry Lujan also claimed he did not use state resources for political purposes. The PRC is now looking into Lujan's calls.
Secretary of State Mary Herrera's office is conducting a preliminary inquiry into Block's campaign finance reports after he admitted he had lied about $2,500 payment to an election official's country band for a performance that never happened. The move came after several media exposes and a letter of complaint from Common Cause New Mexico, an election reform non-profit that was one of the key supporters and crafters of the Voter Action Act.
CCNM Executive Director Steve Allen indicates that the Medina payment may be included in a follow-up letter the organization hopes to file as early as the end of the week.
"The evidence of wrongdoing by this guy, the pile is just getting higher and higher," Allen tells SFR. "I think there's an urgency for the Secretary of State to make a determination on, first that $2,500 question, but these other questions are coming up to. The urgency to take a broad look at what this guy has been up to and how he has used public campaign financing is becoming very very high. I certainly hope that they feel that urgency."
Block's Green Party opponent, who has been picking up support among Democratic voters and leaders in the wake of Block's numerous scandals, isn't optimistic that the SOS will announce its findings before election day.
"It's clear to me that they're not really going to investigate it between now and the election," Lass says. "The Secretary of State is just passing the buck, even though the AG says it's a 'front burner.' It just sorta shows the history of cronyism and corruption that's going to continue on the PRC if [Block] gets elected"
Lass adds, "I'm shocked that Mary Herrera–actually, I'm not really shocked, but I wish I was shocked– isn't being a lot tougher in this instance. I think that might come back to haunt her in two years if she runs for reelection because she certainly hasn't done anything to make herself outstanding."
Secretary of State spokesman James Flores says the office is doing its due diligence, despite criticism of feet-dragging in today's New Mexican.
"We aren't driven by what people are saying," Flores says. "We need to apply due process and that's what we're doing."