Today, the Democratic Party of New Mexico filed a complaint with the New Mexico Office of the Secretary of State against Pat Lyons, the Chairman and Commissioner of the 2nd District of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC) and candidate for Commissioner of Public Lands. The elections complaint focuses on a campaign fundraising letter that directly targets people and entities that Mr. Lyons would be regulating as the head of the State Land Office.
“Pat Lyons has, time and again, used his office to enrich himself and corporate interests, rather than do his job,” said Marg Elliston, Chair of the Democratic Party of New Mexico. “New Mexicans want public servants whose first and only priority is serving the people who elected them, not politicians like Pat Lyons who has made a career out of doing just the opposite.”
The complaint follows an investigative story by New Mexico In Depth which focused on a fundraising letter that Mr. Lyons’ campaign sent to 3,700 ranchers across New Mexico. As noted in the story, among the many regulatory responsibilities it has, the State Land Office reviews competitive bids for five-year leases and establishes fees for livestock grazing and cropland based on current grazing rates, beef cattle prices and livestock production costs. It is also in charge of the renewal process for current lessees.
The fundraising letter appears to be in direct violation of two New Mexico election laws. A campaign may not solicit contributions from a person or entity that the office they are seeking would regulate. Secondly, the Governmental Conduct Act forbids soliciting a monetary contribution in exchange for the promised performance of an official act.
The complaint requests a full-scale investigation into the fundraising letter and Mr. Lyons’ campaign practices.
Lyons has faced numerous ethics investigations both during his previous tenure as Commissioner of Public Lands, and in his current role as Chairman and Commissioner of the 2nd District of the New Mexico PRC.
In 2010, the State Auditor’s office issued a scathing report highlighting millions of taxpayer dollars that were lost at the State Land Office through backroom deals, political favoritism, and outright mismanagement under the supervision of Mr. Lyons.
In 2012, NMpolitics.net, published a piece rebuking a self-congratulatory opinion Mr. Lyons wrote about his time at the PRC, citing among other things: an audit of the PRC that found that Mr. Lyons used a public vehicle for private use at taxpayer expense, and that Mr. Lyons had been accused of being verbally abusive and physically threatening to PRC staffers.
See the full complaint here:
October 11, 2018
New Mexico Office of the Secretary of State
New Mexico Capitol Annex North
325 Don Gaspar, Suite
Santa Fe, NM 87501
Re: Violations of the Campaign Practices Act and the Governmental Conduct Act by Lyons for Land Commissioner Candidate Committee
To Whom it May Concern:
On October 3, 2018 New Mexico In Depth, published a story about a campaign fundraising letter that Patrick Lyons, the Republican candidate for New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands, sent to 3,700 ranchers, some of whom fall under the oversight of the State Land Office. We request an investigation by the New Mexico Office of the Secretary of State to determine if this campaign fundraising tactic is in violation of the Campaign Practices Act, which prohibits the solicitation of campaign contributions from an entity or its officers or employees or a person that is directly regulated by the office the candidate seeks and the Governmental Conduct Act which states that No legislator or public officer or employee may request or receive, and no person may offer a legislator or public officer or employee, any money, thing of value or promise thereof that is conditioned upon or given in exchange for promised performance of an official act.
As noted inNew Mexico In Depth interview published on October 3 2018, The State Land Office reviews competitive bids for five-year leases and establishes fees for livestock grazing and cropland based on current grazing rates, beef cattle prices and livestock production costs. A formula implemented in 1988 is used as a guide, and the Land Office’s Agricultural Leasing Bureau staff and district resource managers are also available to advise the commissioner and assist lessees in completing applications. The office is also in charge of the renewal process for current lessees.
This is also not the first time that Mr. Lyons’ actions have been questioned in connection with the State Land Office. In 2010, State Auditor Hector Balderas conducted an audit revealing that during Mr. Lyons tenure as Commissioner of Public Lands, the New Mexico Land Office lost millions of taxpayers’ dollars as a result of mismanagement or political corruption and favoritism.
Mr. Lyons has held public office since 1992, including serving previously as New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands from 2003 until 2010. Therefore, Mr. Lyons should be well-acquainted with New Mexico’s campaign finance laws. Given Mr. Lyons statewide profile and severity of the potential violation, if he is found to have broken New Mexico’s campaign finance laws, he and his campaign committee should face appropriate remedial action as prescribed by NMSA 1-19-34.6 to ensure a compliance with the campaign solicitations standards with which all candidates for public office must comply.
While Mr. Lyons claims that the fundraising letter, “barely paid for itself,” without a full record of who received the letters and which individuals responded, we are left only with his word. Furthermore, if it is found that any of ranchers fall under the State Land Office’s oversight, it would be a clear violation of state law. Specifically, the potential violations by Mr. Lyons and his campaign are listed below.
A candidate who seeks election to a regulatory office has advised his campaign committee and all persons authorized by the candidate to solicit campaign contributions on his behalf that it is unlawful to solicit contributions from an entity or its officers or employees or a person that is directly regulated by the office the candidate seeks.
The Campaign Practices Act expressly forbids a candidate for office from soliciting contributions from anyone or any entity that is directly regulated by the office the candidate seeks. Given the scope of whom the fundraising letter was sent to, it would not be unreasonable to question if one of the 3,700 recipients currently falls under the oversight of the office. If that were found to be the case it would be an indisputable violation of the law.
This conduct is precisely what the Campaign Practices Act is designed to regulate. By soliciting a campaign contribution from landowners and lessees that are regulated by the State Land Office, Mr. Lyons is in violation of the act and a violation of the act may result in a penalty of “a permanent or temporary injunction, a restraining order or any other appropriate order, including a civil penalty of two hundred fifty dollars ($250) for each violation not to exceed five thousand dollars ($5,000), and forfeiture of any contribution received as a result of an unlawful solicitation or unlawful contribution. Each unlawful solicitation and each unlawful contribution made or accepted shall be deemed a separate violation of the Campaign Reporting Act.”
Therefore, based on the conduct of the Lyons for Land Commissioner Campaign and Mr. Lyons himself, the New Mexico Secretary of State is obligated not only to investigate who this fundraising letter was sent to, but also how many contributions were received as a result of the solicitation in order to determine if there has been a violation of the Campaign Practices Act and determine the appropriate remedy.
II. The language used in the fundraising letter indicates that a landowner or lessee will receive a voice in the State Land office. The letter then asks the reader to contribute $100 to $1000.00 to make sure agriculture has a voice in the land office. This is a violation of the Governmental Conduct Act as it solicits a monetary contribution in exchange for the promised performance of an official act.
The fundraising tactic employed by the Lyons campaign is exactly the conduct the Governmental Conduct Act is charged with prohibiting in order to protect the public from elected officials corrupting their offices for personal or professional gain. Mr. Lyons is a current Public Regulation Commissioner and a former Land Commissioner and in that capacity he has been given guidance on compliance with the Governmental Conduct Act. Yet he has chosen to not only engage in this pay-to-play conduct but justifies his fundraising letter by arguing that it only had a 1% rate of return. What is of concern here is that Mr. Lyons seems to not only not understand the ethical concerns for an elected official to solicit contributions in order to represent potential constituents favorably, but also that he shows a flippant disregard for the letter and spirit of the law. This conduct is potentially a fourth-degree felony and is punishable by eighteen months imprisonment and a fine not to exceed $5,000.
By targeting a specific group of potential donors, specifically lessees and landowners, who are regulated by the land commissioner’s office, and by promising a voice for that constituency group in exchange for a financial contribution, Mr. Lyons and his campaign have violated established law and ethical standards for any New Mexico elected official and candidate committee.
NMSA § 1-19-34.5 places the responsibility to comply with the Campaign Practices Act ultimately in the hands of the candidate for public office. The above-named fundraising letter and Mr. Lyons history of ethical lapses, are cause to warrant a release of the letter and any contributions that Mr. Lyons received as a result of it. This complaint is filed in the hopes the New Mexico Office of the Secretary of State will open a full-scale investigation into the fundraising letter and Mr. Lyons’ campaign practices in order to ensure both the integrity of our elections laws and whether Mr. Lyons has violated them.