By Dan Boyd
SANTA FE — Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver’s office has determined state Auditor Wayne Johnson misspent $1,640.23 in state campaign funds on an October 2017 election night party for his failed Albuquerque mayoral bid.
In a letter sent this week, state Elections Director Mandy Vigil said the expenditure — dated two months before he was appointed auditor —was not allowable under the state’s campaign finance laws and directed Johnson to reimburse his campaign the full amount in question within 10 days.
Specifically, she said state law does not allow the use of campaign funds to repay the debt of a municipal election.
In response, Johnson, a Republican, claimed political favoritism on the part of Toulouse Oliver toward his opponent in this year’s state auditor race, Brian Colón, who is a former state Democratic Party chairman.
“Your arbitrary and capricious determination, in contravention of the express definitions in the Campaign Reporting Act, indicates that your office is biased in favor of the Democratic Party of New Mexico,” Johnson wrote in a response letter.
He also indicated he would seek binding arbitration to resolve the matter.
Johnson has maintained the funds in question came from his county commission account, which was converted into his auditor campaign fund earlier this year for purposes of the Secretary of State’s campaign finance database. He has also said he believed the spending to be appropriate.
Johnson reported the $1,640,23 expenditure on a mandatory state campaign finance report in April. A former Bernalillo County commissioner, he came in fourth last year in a eight-way mayoral race that was won after a runoff by then-state Auditor Tim Keller.
Johnson was then appointed state auditor by Gov. Susana Martinez in December, after Keller stepped down from the job.
Meanwhile, the Secretary of State’s ruling came after the state Democratic Party filed an ethics complaint in July. The party has also filed a separate ethics complaint against Johnson regarding him simultaneously working as state auditor and county commissioner for a three-month time period.
Per the 2018 campaign finance reporting guide put out by the Secretary of State’s office, candidates are generally allowed to spend campaign funds on campaign-related expenditures. Clothing, massages and medical treatment are among the types of impermissible campaign expenditures.
Despite its ruling that Johnson had violated the state’s campaign finance laws, the Secretary of State’s office did not impose any additional fines or penalties on the state auditor.