Jury weighs whether Cowboys for Trump flouted campaign law
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A jury will consider this week whether the support group Cowboys for Trump and cofounder Couy Griffin violated state election law by failing to register as a political organization without filing related public financial disclosures.
A two-day trial was scheduled to start Tuesday at state District Court in Alamogordo. Separately, Griffin last year was removed from office as an Otero County commissioner and barred from elected office for his role in the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021.
Griffin forged a group of rodeo acquaintances in 2019 into the promotional group called Cowboys for Trump that staged horseback parades to spread President Donald Trump’s conservative message about gun rights, immigration controls and abortion restrictions.
The secretary of state’s office prevailed in a June 2020 arbitration decision that ordered Cowboys for Trump to register as a political committee, file expenditure and contribution reports and pay a fine of $7,800.
Griffin resisted pressure to register the group, including an unsuccessful petition to the 10th District Court of Appeals.
Contacted Monday, Griffin expressed concern that registering Cowboys for Trump as a political group could lead to reprisals against donors.
He invoked free speech protections and said Cowboys for Trump used donations to travel and espouse support for conservative ideals, without raising money for a political candidate.
“All I wanted to do was speak on behalf of an ‘America First’ agenda, which should all be protected under the First Amendment," he said. “I don't want the state of New Mexico to know who has supported Cowboys for Trump. It's about protecting donors."
Griffin was previously convicted in federal court of a misdemeanor for entering the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, without going inside the building. Last year, he became the first elected official to be banished from elected office in connection with the attack on the U.S. Capitol building that disrupted Congress as it was trying to certify President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory.