Here’s what is known: If Democrat Jerome Block Jr. wins on Nov. 4, New Mexicans will have elected to District 3 a Public Regulation Commissioner who misused public funds and then lied about it.
What is unknown is the full extent of Block’s malfeasance. For that information, New Mexico will have to wait weeks, if not months.
SFR has learned that Secretary of State Mary Herrera’s office is sending Block a letter this week seeking clarification of questionable spending listed in his campaign finance reports. The letter will be the second of its kind this month.
As a candidate under New Mexico’s Voter Action Act, Block has received more than $101,000 in public money with which to run his campaign.
After the first inquiry into Block’s campaign finances—which included the now-infamous $2,500 payment to San Miguel County Clerk Paul Maez’ country western band for a fictitious rally performance—the SOS determined Block had violated several election laws. Block was fined $11,000 and ordered to return another $10,000 in public campaign money.
Although Block has yet to pay those penalties, the SOS is now looking at other questionable payments.
Those include a $507 payment to the company that employs Block’s father, a $350 payment to an Attorney General’s Office employee and a $1,500 to a county-level Democratic organization—all issues first identified by SFR.
Once Block receives the latest letter from the SOS, he will likely have 10 days to respond—a date after the election. The Attorney General’s Office also is looking into Block with an investigation that spokesman Phil Sisneros describes as “still active.”
As of press time, the Secretary of State’s letter to Block was not available for inspection. SFR was informed of the letter by SOS Public Information Officer James Flores because of the paper’s inquiries into the following payments:
Recipient: MATI Networks
Cited Purpose: “Website design & hosting” [sic]
Background: Shortly after Block won the six-way Democratic primary last June, SFR discovered the candidate had not reported spending any money on his Web site,
[July 16: “
Further investigation revealed the Web site had been built and registered in January by MATI Networks, a subsidiary of Mescalero Apache Telecommunications Inc., a company regulated by the PRC that also employs Block’s father, former PRC Commissioner Jerome Block Sr.
In a phone interview in July, Block Sr. admitted he had personally asked MATI Networks to build the Web site. Block Jr. claimed MATI had simply forgotten to send him a bill. On Aug. 8—three weeks after SFR reported the story—Block paid the $507 bill.
Ethical/Legal Issues: Had Block not reimbursed MATI, the Web site could have been considered an illegal campaign contribution from a corporation to a PRC candidate. Now, the Web site appears to be an illegal campaign expense.
The Voter Action Act states: “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, however, used money he was given for the general election cycle to pay for expenses incurred during the primary election cycle. Furthermore, the law bars carrying campaign debt from one election cycle to the next.
Recipient: Cordy Medina
Cited Purpose: “Mailout assistance”
Background: Medina’s name jumped off the page of Block’s campaign finance reports because she serves as Attorney General Gary King’s constituent services coordinator [Oct.15:
This is not the first time Medina has simultaneously worked for the government and a political campaign. In 2000, the Albuquerque Journal reported that Medina went on unpaid leave from her job as director of the Santa Fe County Bureau of Elections when details emerged of her involvement in Phil Griego’s state Senate campaign.
According to Attorney General Spokesman Phil Sisneros, Medina does not currently work on Block’s campaign. The July 18 payment, he says, was for money Block “owed her for postage and work on a small mailer since last March.”
Medina was not reimbursed until two days after SFR published its first story on Block’s unreported primary debts.
Ethical/Legal Issues: While this may be ethically problematic for the Attorney General’s Office—King has declared Block’s campaign-finance issues a “front burner” for his office—it is not illegal for a state employee to work on a political campaign as long as the work is conducted on the employee’s private time.
“Ms. Medina, whatever she did campaign-wise, was done on her own time outside of state time,” AG spokesman Phil Sisneros says, on Medina’s behalf. “She doesn’t use state resources.”
However, the timing of the payment does appear to violate the Voter Action Act for the same reasons the MATI payment does: Block paid for a primary expense with general election money. In this case, however, the violation is more flagrant: Unlike a Web site, a mailer’s purpose cannot carry over into the general election cycle.
Recipient: San Miguel County Democratic Party
Cited Purpose: “Collaborative campaigns”
Background: Under the Voter Action Act, political parties are the only entities allowed to help out publicly funded PRC candidates. Block’s opponent, Rick Lass, for example, accepted $3,250 in funds and approximately $1,500 in in-kind office space from the Green Party.
Block reported doing the opposite on his campaign filings: He donated several thousand dollars to two county-level Democratic organizations in crucial areas of the district. Block reported the expenses as “collaborative campaigns.”
The San Miguel County Democratic Party’s campaign finance reports specify it threw fund-raisers and rallies for US Senate candidate Tom Udall and 3rd District Congressional candidate Ben Ray Luján, but lists no expense in regard to Block’s campaign. Instead, it appears Block’s contribution was used to pay the $1,500 rent on the party’s headquarters.
The Taos Democrats also received $1,500 from Block but have not filed a campaign finance report, despite SOS rules that require any group that takes in more than $1,000 to do so. As of deadline, the Taos donation was not slated for inclusion in the SOS’ latest letter to Block.
“It was for general get-out-the-vote stuff,” Taos Democrats Chairman Thomas “Chuby” Tafoya says. “That money didn’t go just for anything in particular…I’ve raised other money besides that, so we’ve spent money on office supplies, literature, signs—different things.”
Ethical/Legal Issues: According to the Voter Action Act, money must be used only for the candidate’s campaign, not for the party or another candidate’s expenses—that’s why Block was fined $1,000 for using public money to help Hillary Clinton pay off her campaign debt.
“I’m not sure how making contributions to a party is a campaign-related expense, unless the party is providing a list of voters that are used for walk lists or canvassing or unless there’s office space in which there’s fair-market value paid for the candidates’ portion of that space,” Center for Civic Policy Policy Director Matt Brix says. “There has to be something in return that legitimizes a campaign-related expense. It can’t be a straight donation.”