New Mexico Supreme Court Says Judicial Candidate was Properly Disqualified from Election and Fined for Violations of Public Campaign Financing Law

On April 12, 2012, the New Mexico Supreme Court found that candidate for a seat on the New Mexico Court of Appeals was properly disqualified from the election and fined. The case, Montoya v. Herrera concerned Dennis Montoya’s 2010 bid for a seat on the state appeals court. Judge Linda Vanzi was running to confirm the seat to which the governor had appointed her three years earlier and continue her job with the approval of voters. Montoya ran against her, and applied for public funding under the New Mexico Voter Action Act.

Then-secretary of state, Mary Herrera, “informed Appellant by letter that he was not qualified to receive public funding because he had violated the Act’s contribution limits and reporting requirements.” After a hearing, the action was upheld because Montoya was found to have exceeded the seed money limits of the New Mexico Voter Action Act and failed to comply with the secretary’s reporting requirements. Herrera imposed a $2,000 fine on Montoya for his violations.

Montoya appealed the disqualification and fine, which went straight to the highest court because he was running for a seat on the intermediate appellate court. The state supreme court considered whether he had violated the seed money regulations of the act, which impose a $5,000 limit on a candidate’s contributions to his own campaign. Montoya contributed over $8,000 to his own campaign, but argued they were for general expenses rather than seed money. The state high court rejected that argument, saying there is no such distinction in the wording of the law.


The New Mexico Supreme Court explained that, “when [Montoya] contributed more than $8,000 of his own money to the campaign, while simultaneously applying for public funds, he violated the Act.  Under the law, the Secretary had no choice but to disqualify him from public financing, and she did so.” It also dismissed Montoya’s First-Amendment claim because he choose to apply for public financing, when self-financing campaigns is allowed. This is a somewhat surprising outcome, as First Amendment claims have done well elsewhere.

The court upheld the fine as well, because the secretary of state was required by law to impose a civil penalty on anyone who violates the Act, regardless of his or her intent or knowledge of the violation.

New Mexico Supreme Court opinion

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