NM Federal Judge Both Tosses And Upholds NM Campaign Finance Laws; Court Ruling Highlights “Pay to Play” Scandals of Democrat Gov. Bill Richardson; Ignores “Dirty Downs Deal” of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez; Citizens United A Threat To Democracy

On August 17, New Mexico’s Chief United States District Judge William P. Johnson, in an 87-page opinion, tossed and also upheld New Mexico’s state campaign finance limits in an 11 year old lawsuit.  The Federal lawsuit was filed in 2012 by the Republican Party of Bernalillo County, the Republican Party of Doña Ana County, New Mexico Turn Around, former Republican Party State Party Chair Harvey Yates and other plaintiffs with Republican Party ties including  the Right to Life Committee of New Mexico.  U.S. District Judge William P. Johnson was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush on December 21, 2001 and he is believed to be a registered Republican.

The lawsuit challenged the constitutionality of New Mexico’s campaign finance laws as set out in the state’s Campaign Reporting Act. The statute was enacted in 2009 in response to political corruption scandals in the state and after recommendations from an ethics reform task force convened by then Democratic Governor Bill Richardson.

Judge Johnson noted the state’s campaign reporting act was enacted just before the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark  case of  Citizens United v. FEC and  wrote the decision “injected uncertainty into the world of campaign finance. Seizing on this uncertainty, the Republican Party of New Mexico and other plaintiffs filed suit in 2011, citing the First and 14th amendments and the Supremacy Clause.”


The campaign finance regulations are part of the state’s Campaign Reporting Act. Judge Johnson found 3 violated the First Amendment. They include an $11,000 limit on state parties’ contributions to gubernatorial candidates or candidate committees and a $5,500 limit for all other candidates and county parties each election cycle.

U.S. District Judge William P. Johnson enjoined the State of New Mexico from enforcing its $11,000 limit per election cycle on contributions from state political parties to gubernatorial candidates or candidate committees.

Johnson also enjoined the state’s $5,500 limit per election cycle for all other candidates and the state’s $5,500 limit from state political parties to county parties. Judge Johnson also dismissed the lawsuit’s challenge to the $27,500 limit on contributions from individuals and entities to state political parties.

Judge Johnson focused on Republican Party challenges to 5 different state campaign contribution limits, finding 3 violated the First Amendment. Lawyers representing the state, including the state Attorney General, presented evidence of the need to address “quid pro quo” corruption or its appearance through limits on contributions to political parties.   Johnson ruled that for a contribution limit to survive, the state must first show a “sufficiently important interest in that limit. … Campaign contribution limits must aim to prevent quid pro quo corruption or its appearance.”

Judge Johnson  wrote  “Political corruption is not just a relic of New Mexico’s past.”  Judge Johnson proceeded to cite the convictions in the 1980s of former New Mexico State Investment officer Philip Troutman and Deputy State Treasurer Kenneth Johnson, who were convicted of conspiracy to commit extortion for soliciting $2,000 in contributions to the Democratic Leadership Fund.

Judge Johnson also  cited the convictions in the 1990’s of then-state Democrat Representative Ronald Olguin for soliciting or demanding a $15,000 bribe in exchange for including a $100,000 appropriation into the House’s appropriation bill.  Judge Johnson noted two state Democrat Treasurers in New Mexico, Michael Montoya and Robert Vigil, were convicted of extortion and attempted extortion.

Judge Johnson wrote:

“Two key examples [of quid pro quo corruption are] the convictions of Troutman and Johnson in the 1980s and the recent ‘pay to play’ scandals of Governor Bill Richardson. … The Court finds the federal investigation into Governor Richardson’s alleged pay-to-play schemes qualifies as the appearance of quid pro quo corruption because the State has demonstrated public awareness of the serious risk that Governor Richardson was awarding state contracts — the quid — in exchange for campaign contributions — the quo.”

In the 3 limits the judge ruled as unconstitutional, Johnson found the limits on state party contributions to both gubernatorial candidates and non-gubernatorial candidates were lower compared to other states’ limits and lower than limits upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

As to the third limit, regarding state party contributions to county political parties, the judge found the state failed to put forth evidence to show that “there’s a serious risk of donors circumventing valid contribution limits by donating money to a state party with the intention that the money be donated to a county party to give to a candidate in exchange for a ‘quid pro quo” candidate or the appearance of one.”

The limit on such contributions, he wrote, is “too attenuated from the root concern of quid pro quo corruption between individuals and candidates.”

Conversely, in upholding the $27,500 limit per election cycle, Johnson found that New Mexico’s limit on contributions from individuals and entities to state political parties is higher, often substantially higher,  than the comparable limit imposed in 20 states. He also upheld the $27,500 limit on contributions from national political parties to state political parties for federal elections.

The judge found that evidence submitted in the case showed that the “[New Mexico Republican Party] … works closely with its Republican candidates, including evidence that the NMGOP provides its candidates with campaign assistance, strategic advice and often coordinates joint rallies and fundraising events with its candidates. … The case record also contains testimony about the importance of these type of fundraisers as ways for donors to meet candidates … Specifically, former plaintiff Mark Veteto testified that his presence at State Republican fundraisers and the like allowed him access to former Governor Susana Martinez including the ability to email, text and call her.”


In his  87-page opinion, New Mexico Federal Judge Johnson noted that the campaign contribution limits were recommended by an ethics reform task force convened by then Democratic Governor Bill Richardson.  According to Judge Johnson, the task force proposed creating limits to “address quid pro quo corruption and the appearance of corruption associated with large campaign contributions” and he noted several high-profile corruption scandals influenced the task force and led to the adoption of the contribution limits.

Judge Johnson noted in his ruling that one of the scandals “ironically, involved Governor Bill Richardson …  Richardson came under federal investigation in 2008 for allegedly giving state contracts to campaign donors. And these pay-to-play allegations ultimately caused Richardson to withdraw from consideration as President Obama’s Commerce Secretary.”  Richardson had served as Department of Energy secretary under President Bill Clinton but was never charged with a crime.




It was ultimately the main office of the Department of Justice in Washington, DC that made the final decision not to go forward against Richardson. On August 28, 2009, then Republican US Attorney Greg Fouratt whose office was investigating Governor  Bill Richardson and his former top aides after a probe of an alleged pay-to-play scheme,  said that although federal charges were not brought that did not  exonerate the conduct of people involved.

Fouratt made the comments in a letter sent to defense lawyers, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press.  Fouratt said the  federal investigation “revealed pressure from the governor’s office resulted in the corruption of the procurement process” in awarding state bond deal work to a Richardson political contributor.  Richardson spokesman at the time  issued a statement  saying Fouratt’s letter was “nothing more than sour grapes.”   Fouatt was later appointed federal magistrate.




“Citizens United was where the conservative nonprofit group called Citizens United challenged federal campaign finance rules after the FEC stopped it from promoting and airing a film criticizing presidential candidate Hillary Clinton too close to the presidential primaries.   A 5–4 majority of the Supreme Court sided with Citizens United, ruling that corporations and other outside groups can spend unlimited money on elections.  In the court’s opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that limiting “independent political spending” from corporations and other groups violates the First Amendment right to free speech. The justices who voted with the majority assumed that independent spending cannot be corrupt and that the spending would be transparent, but both assumptions have proven to be incorrect.

With its decision, the Supreme Court overturned election spending restrictions that date back more than 100 years. Previously, the court had upheld certain spending restrictions, arguing that the government had a role in preventing corruption. But in Citizens United, a bare majority of the justices held that “independent political spending” did not present a substantive threat of corruption, provided it was not coordinated with a candidate’s campaign.  As a result, corporations can now spend unlimited funds on campaign advertising if they are not formally “coordinating” with a candidate or political party.  The ruling has ushered in massive increases in political spending from outside groups, dramatically expanding the already outsized political influence of wealthy donors, corporations, and special interest groups.”

The link to the quoted source material is here:



The ruling by New Mexico’s Chief United States District Judge William P. Johnson should not come as any surprise to anyone, but it is nonetheless was very disappointing.  The ruling will likely be affirmed by the Federal Court of Appeals if the state appeals in that it is conforms with the United State Supreme Court case of  Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission.


It is understandable how U.S. District Judge William P. Johnson would note that it was ironic that the campaign contribution limits were recommended by an ethics reform task force convened by then Democratic Governor Bill Richardson who was investigated for allegedly giving state contracts to campaign donors which is commonly referred to as “pay to play”.  Judge Johnson  also went out of his way to write  “Political corruption is not just a relic of New Mexico’s past” .  He proceeded to identify  high profile scandals of only  Democrats including  Democratic Treasurers  Michael Montoya and Robert Vigil who were convicted of extortion and attempted extortion.

What Judge Johnson glossed over  is that government corruption  is not just a relic of New Mexico’s past” and it is not confined to Democrats  and has included  Republicans in the past 11 years.


The biggest notable scandal involving Republican “pay to play” was “THE DIRTY DOWNS DEAL”, yet Judge Johnson made no mention of itDuring her first year in office, former two term Republican Governor Susana Martinez  was alleged to have been involved with a “play to play” controversy involving the award of a $1 Billion-dollar, 25-year, Albuquerque Downs Racetrack contract, dubbed by politicos as “The Dirty Downs deal”.

The FBI investigated the contract, which was awarded to the Downs at Albuquerque in December 2011. FBI agents interviewed people involved with the former Republican Governor’s campaign and others about the race track lease and about campaign donations and inaugural donations. The Republican Governor herself also answered FBI questions about the Downs lease deal but she never went public with what she said. Allegations were made that the Downs at Albuquerque contract was a “pay-to-play deal”.

Allegations of nefarious conduct around the Downs lease involved political insiders, significant campaign contributions to Governor Martinez and attempts to hide political donations and contributions to Governor Martinez or her political action committee from donors connected to the Downs Race Track. Two of the Downs owners are Louisianans Bill Windham and John Turner and they are Republican boosters and were substantial contributors to the Republican Governor’s campaign for Governor and she received $70,000 in contributions during her campaign from Windham and Turner.

The Republican Governor’s political adviser, Jay McCleskey, who has never been a state employee but had an office next to Martinez in the Governors office, thrust himself right in the middle of the “Dirty Downs Deal” controversy and the award of the contract by the State Fair Commission. McCleskey became upset over a two-week delay on the contract award by the State Fair Commission. McCleskey became angry when the State Fair Commission did not approve the 25-year racino lease with the Downs at Albuquerque.

For several months, a federal grand jury investigated Jay McCleskey regarding expenditures from Republican Martinez’s campaign, as well as money from her 2011 inauguration committee that went directly to McCleskey. On March 4, 2016, Mc Clesky’s attorney, Republican Paul Kennedy the go to criminal defense attorney and former State Supreme Court Justice appointed by Martinez,  announced that the federal grand jury would not indict McCleskey by saying “I’ve been informed the investigation has been terminated”.  Kennedy  declined to answer any questions and did not provide any documentation of the notice of non prosecution as was the case in the Richardson investigation and the Fouratt letter.



There are two other notable scandals involving Republican officials in the last 11 years:

In 2021, Republican Demesia Padilla, Secretary of the Taxation and Revenue Department, was convicted by a Sandoval County jury of stealing $25,000 from a client of her accounting business while she served in the Cabinet of former Republican  Governor  Susana Martinez.

In 2015 Republican Dianna Duran  resigned as secretary of state after she was charged with diverting money from her campaign to pay gambling debts at Native American casinos. She was ordered to pay $28,000 restitution to campaign contributors and served 30 days in jail.


Simply put, Citizens United is an abomination. It is just another Supreme Court case opinion in a long line a rulings rendered by an ultra-conservative Republican majority on the United State Supreme Court. What is now happening is that the United States Supreme Court has lost its legitimacy because of blatant partisan politics. (See below link to Dinelli blog article.)

The influence of big money in elections allowed by the US Supreme Court decision in Citizens United is destroying our democracy. Equating money spent to free speech and defining corporations as equal to a person who is a citizen who votes was never envisioned by the framers of the constitution, yet that is exactly what has been done by the Unites Supreme Court.

United States Supreme Court Has Lost Its Legitimacy Because Of Partisan Politics; Supreme Court “Champing At Bit” To Interfere With Elections Laws To Disenfranchise Voters By Empowering Legislatures To Set Aside Election Results Excluding The Courts

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Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.