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The blind spot in the state’s most expensive election so far this year

The race for the district attorney spot in the Second Judicial District, which includes all of Bernalillo County, is the most expensive so far in the state. Pictured are incumbent Sam Bregman, left, who has raised more than $400,000 and his opponent Damon Martinez, who has raised about $300,000, including $170,000 of loans he made to his campaign.
Courtesy of Second Judicial District and the Martinez campaign Facebook
Source New Mexico
The race for the district attorney spot in the Second Judicial District, which includes all of Bernalillo County, is the most expensive so far in the state. Pictured are incumbent Sam Bregman, left, who has raised more than $400,000 and his opponent Damon Martinez, who has raised about $300,000, including $170,000 of loans he made to his campaign.

The primary race for Albuquerque’s top prosecutor job is the most expensive in the state so far, between incumbent Sam Bregman and challenger Damon Martinez. But a gap in disclosure laws means voters have less information about one candidate’s finances and potential conflicts than the other’s.

The sharp increase in spending in the Second Judicial District may reflect increased public anxiety about crime and public safety in the state’s biggest city and elsewhere.

Bregman has reported raising more than $400,000 so far this election, making him the highest earner of any non-federal candidate in New Mexico. Martinez has pulled in about $300,000 — making him the second-highest fundraiser — though he loaned himself $170,000 of that, according to state campaign records. Candidates will file an update about their fundraising May 13.

As the current Second Judicial District Attorney in Bernalillo County, Bregman is required under state law to go a step further — releasing not just information about how much he’s raised and spent but also disclose more about where his personal income comes from, his role on governing boards and his spouse’s finances.

Martinez and every other district attorney challenger, however, are not legally required to do the same, according to state law, elections ethics watchdogs, and officials with the secretary of state’s office and New Mexico Ethics Commission.

Source NM has asked Martinez and other district attorney candidates to voluntarily provide the information their incumbent opponents have made public. We’ll publish those if we get them.

State law requires “state agency heads” to file disclosures, which means elected DAs must file them. And candidates for statewide or legislative offices must disclose, as well.

“Since the statute reads to include only candidates seeking statewide office, those that are merely candidates for DA would likely not need to file financial disclosure statements,” Jane Kirkpatrick, a spokesperson at the state Ethics Commission, said in an email.

At the same time, countywide disclosure ordinances also exclude district attorneys, because they can only impact candidates, elected officials and employees at the county level, said Jaime Diaz, the deputy county clerk for Bernalillo. Since district attorneys are not part of the court system, rules around judicial disclosures also do not apply to them, either, said an Administrative Office of the Courts spokesperson.

Bregman’s disclosure shows his appointment to the state’s Racing Commission in 2021 and his wife Jackie’s employment as an attorney and real estate broker in Albuquerque. He left the commission after his January 2023 appointment to the district attorney’s office.

Bregman’s campaign received nearly $25,000 from track owners and current commissioners. He said in an email that the donations came from people who knew from his time there, describing them as “all law-abiding people who want to continue to push for safer communities."

Source NM asked whether Martinez would provide more information about his finances to the public, even though he’s not legally required to. Martinez campaign manager Doug Gibson said Wednesday the campaign is discussing it.“

My statement is: We’re not saying that we’re not doing it,” he said in an interview.

Gibson said such questions create a “manufactured, higher ethical standard” for Martinez over other DA candidates across the state.

Though he has the most money in his campaign coffers among challengers, Martinez is not alone among DA candidates statewide who didn’t file personal financial disclosures. Of 13 candidates seeking to unseat incumbent district attorneys, 11 did not file them, according to a Source NM review of secretary of state filings.

Dede Feldman, a former state lawmaker and spokesperson for Common Cause New Mexico, said voters deserve to know who signs candidates’ paychecks and where potential conflicts of interest lie. That’s also true for district attorney candidates, she said.

“It's not a good look when candidates do not disclose their finances,” she said.

Martinez is a longtime public official who has served as United States Attorney, along with other prominent roles. He ran for Congress in 2018, where he was required to disclose earning a combined $100,000 as a private attorney and federal prosecutor, and owning two rental homes in Las Cruces, among other income sources.

In past elections and this time around, Gibson stressed that Martinez is complying with all relevant laws.

“We take compliance very seriously and we have complied with all requirements for candidacy,” he said in an email Wednesday.

Martinez and Bregman are both Democrats. Because there is no Republican running, the primary election June 4 will determine who becomes DA for the Second Judicial District covering Bernalillo County, where about one-third of the state’s population lives.

Races across the state

District attorney elections for nine of the state’s 14 judicial districts are contested this year, in both primary and general elections.

Five candidates are in the running for the job in Las Cruces, including defense attorney Michael Cain. He is one of two candidates who opted to file a disclosure report, where he noted that his wife is a probation officer.

Cain, running in his first campaign, said he thought it was a requirement to fill out the disclosure form. “I just did what they told me,” he said. “I’m a transparent guy.”

Jack Fortner, running against District Attorney Rick Tedrow in San Juan County, filed a disclosure, but only because he’s required to do so as a University of New Mexico regent, he said. He left most of the form blank, filling out just enough to affirm that doesn’t have any state contracts or other ties that could conflict with his role as a regent.

All 14 incumbents filed financial disclosures as required by law but with varying degrees of completeness.

For example, incumbent District Attorney Clint Wellborn in the Seventh District — which oversees Torrance, Catron, Sierra and Socorro counties — listed the exact addresses of nine Socorro properties he owns. Tedrow, the DA overseeing San Juan Country, however, just said he owned seven commercial and two residential properties without saying where.

In McKinley County next door next door, District Attorney Bernadine Martin disclosed that she earned more than $5,000 in “gambling winnings” in the past year. The law requires filers to note whether they earned more than $5,000 in outside income, a field most candidates and incumbents left blank.

Feldman said more candidates need to file disclosures, but that won’t go nearly far enough.They also need to take them more seriously.

The issue of candidates signing blank or erroneous forms has plagued election watchers for years, and the now-defunct New Mexico Ethics Watch issued a three-part report in 2017 saying New Mexico falls “woefully short” when it comes to meaningful financial disclosure among lawmakers and public officials.“

The chief duty of elected officials is to act in the public interest, and not their private interests. But when no one knows what their private interests are, there's no way to really enforce conflict of interest,” she said.

Top takeaways in Bernalillo County

The big money race for Albuquerque’s next top prosecutor hasn’t always been this expensive. In 2020, when then-District Attorney Raúl Torrez ran unopposed in both the primary and general elections, he only raised and spent about $67,000.Bregman was appointed to the position by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in January 2023. He is the frontrunner in donations, raising $417,601.01 across 500 donations since June of last year.Martinez has lent his campaign $170,00 and raised $132,200 from nearly 200 donations, according to his campaign filings.

Bregman’s horse-racing industry donations include an $11,000 one-time donation from Ruidoso racetrack owners, and another $11,900 from three current racing commission members who he served with.

In an emailed statement, Bregman said the commissioners support him to “get the job done.”

“They have witnessed, like hundreds of other donors to my campaign, the progress we've made so far and would like to see me continue in the roles that I am serving in now,” he wrote.

Bregman has not loaned his campaign any money, as of the April 1 filing, but did credit himself for $296 for an in-kind donation of food and drink. He also received the use of an Albuquerque Isotopes Suite and food last year, valued at $2,000.

As of April 1, the latest campaign finance filing, the candidates were neck-in-neck in spending, with both spending $98,000 each in their respective campaigns.

Bregman’s largest single purchase was $39,500 for digital advertisements. Digital ad spending totaled more than $46,000. Cumulatively, he’s spent more than $25,600 on campaign consultants Patricia Mattioli in Albuquerque and Brittany Silvas in Washington, D.C.

Bregman also donated $1,200 to four candidates statewide. That includes $250 for Michelle Kavanaugh in Bernalillo County Clerk race. $500 for Sen. George Muñoz (D-Gallup) and gave Albuquerque Democrats Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero $200 and House Speaker Javier Martínez another $250.

The Martinez campaign spent $14,800 on polling and survey research, its single largest purchase, which totaled to $25,000. Campaign consulting cost Martinez more than $53,000 in expenses. That was split between three firms: Albuquerque-based firm Gibson Political Strategies; Elections in Motion based in Shaker Heights, Ohio; and Indigo Strategies in Washington, D.C.

Martinez did not donate to other campaigns, nor did he report any in-kind donations.Early voting started Tuesday, May 7 and will continue until June 1. Primary Election day is Tuesday, June

This story was originally published in Source New Mexico.