In recent years, money’s influence in politics has been heavily debated in both national and local governments. More questions on campaign finance were raised this year when employees donated directly to their superior’s campaigns.
Dona Ana County residents have raised concerns over county employees contributions to local campaigns. Specifically, a donation Commissioner Rawson received from County Manager Julia Brown. According to 2014 campaign finance reports, Brown donated almost $500 dollars to Rawson’s campaign.
The Dona Ana County Commission is now looking into policies to see what rules are in place, and if any new ones need to be instated. At a work session this month, Commissioner Rawson said he felt like he was being singled out.
“This is an item that the only interest publicly has been the donation from the County Manager to myself,” Rawson said. “There doesn’t seem to be any concern for other contributions that have been given to other elected officials. And I find that very politically interesting.”
Commissioner Rawson specifically mentioned donations from Eddie Lerma to incoming Sherriff Enrique Vigil. Lerma donated close to $700 to Vigil’s campaign and was selected by Vigil to be the undersheriff when he takes office. County Commissioner Wayne Hancock says that the discussion is not politically motivated.
“I think that it is purely the appearance of impropriety,” Hancock said. ‘That’s not to say that in any particular case that anyone had motivation, or would do anything unethical, but it is the appearance of impropriety. That’s all.”
At the meeting, Interim County Attorney David Medeiros said that the donation did not violate any law or city policy. He says there are measures in the code of conduct that could apply, but only in specific circumstances. Section 14-5 states that nothing of value shall be given or promised in exchange for an official act.
It also states that elected officials and employees should not engage in any act that would compromise their responsibilities, or give the appearance of impropriety when dealing with public policy. Section 14-6 states that commission members must disclose any campaign donations that might cause a conflict of interest.
Medeiros said Brown’s donation did not break any existing policies, but the commission could create a policy for county employees relating to campaign donations.
“It appears that such a restriction on all employees could possibly be defended,” Medeiros said. “If the prohibited contribution were to the elected official in county government that had supervisory authority over that employee.”
Commissioner Billy Garret asked staff to do more research, to find out what other governments and organizations have said on the issue.
“This is not unique to us,” Garrett said. “We are not the only ones who have ever encountered this question, democrat, or republican, or otherwise. And I think it would just be helpful for us to know what some of the best practices are.”
The International City/County Management Association’s code of ethics states that members should “Refrain from all political activities which undermine public confidence in professional administrators. Refrain from participation in the election of the members of the employing legislative body.”
The County Commission is expected to bring the issue up again at a work session, sometime next year.