Article in The Albuquerque Tribune: GOP wants probe into candidate’s contributions

The former chief fund-raiser for James Lewis’ campaign to become state treasurer has accused the Democratic candidate of filing false campaign contribution reports.

Lewis denies the accusation, but the Secretary of State’s Office is investigating.

After Rosetta Stewart quit her job as the chairwoman of the James Lewis for Treasurer Campaign Finance and Fundraising Committee about five weeks ago, Lewis didn’t think he’d see her again.

But he said he spotted her about two weeks ago at his opponent’s side during a candidate forum in Albuquerque.

Lewis said he was dismayed, but that was nothing compared to his surprise at the affidavit Stewart had notarized Sunday, he said.

“First they said I was the governor’s puppet, now they say I had some campaign improprieties. When is it going to stop?” he said.

The affidavit says Lewis inaccurately reported campaign contributions on several occasions. It comes on the heels of a campaign mailer by Demesia Padilla, his Republican opponent in the Nov. 7 election, that characterized him as a puppet of Gov. Bill Richardson.

In the affidavit made public at a news conference in Albuquerque on Thursday at the New Mexico Republican Party’s headquarters, Stewart says that Lewis:

Told campaign donors who didn’t want their names attached to their financial contributions that the money could be reported as coming from someone else.

Told her that a $500 cash contribution given to her by an unnamed man at a political function would be made to “look like his son La Ron Lewis contributed it.”

Told her it was OK to take money from donors who didn’t want their names tied to the contribution, and “he would handle the rest.”

When Stewart was asked why she went to the Republican Party with her allegations, she said, “There’s no real particular reason.”

Stewart is registered as a Republican, according to Marta Kramer, executive director of the New Mexico Republican Party.

Stewart said she works in marketing and has lived in Albuquerque since 1975. She said she does not work for Padilla.

“I just wanted to come forward because I do not want the people of the state of New Mexico to be deceived any longer,” she said.

Based on Stewart’s affidavit, the state GOP filed a complaint with the Secretary of State’s Office, said Allen Weh, party chairman. It is also asking the Attorney General’s Office to investigate.

“We leave it to a disinterested, objective investigation to reach a conclusion as to whether what has been said is true,” Weh said. “If it is, he’s (Lewis) got problems.”

Ray Baray, spokesman with the Secretary of State’s Office, said the complaint will be investigated.

If any merit is found in the allegations, the case will be passed on to the Attorney General’s Office, he said.

“We’re going to try to move on it as quickly as possible,” he said.

It wasn’t clear Thursday whether there is a a deadline for completing an investigation, Baray said.

In the affidavit, Stewart said she “resigned because of (Lewis’) lack of honesty and integrity.”

But the state Democratic Party Chairman John Wertheim suggested it’s Stewart who isn’t being forthright, calling her allegations baseless.

Wertheim also said Stewart made her allegations to support the Republican Party.

Stewart, who could not be reached for comment on the Democratic Party’s statements, said at the news conference that she hasn’t ever worked for Padilla.

But Padilla acknowledged that Stewart had recently accompanied her to one candidate forum and met her at another.

Stewart went to the forums to confront Lewis with her allegations, Padilla said, but never got the chance.

Lewis explained one of the alleged reporting errors, saying his son, La Ron, contributed to his campaign. Campaign finance reports show La Ron Lewis giving $500.

“If there were any misstatements on our financial report, we’ll correct that,” James Lewis said. “There is no intention on my behalf to usurp the system.”

He pointed out he has a “quality control team” who reviews his finance reports starting six weeks before each filing date.

Stewart also claimed in the affidavit that in February she and Lewis dined with an unidentified couple at an Albuquerque restaurant. She said the couple agreed to donate $2,500 “but for some reason didn’t want their names mentioned.”

“James Lewis told them that he knew how to go around it, and that he would make sure that their contribution would be under Lee Griffin’s name,” Stewart said in the affidavit.

Lewis said Griffin, of Topeka, Kan., is a longtime friend. Campaign finance reports show Griffin contributed $2,500 on Feb. 13 and $1,500 on Aug. 10.

“I have a good friend, Lee Griffin, who has been through every campaign with me,” said Lewis, who was state treasurer from 1985-90. “He said, `I want to help you,’ and that’s what he did.”

Lewis said he didn’t stay for dinner with Stewart and the couple, and he couldn’t say whether the couple followed through on the donation. But he also said it’s common for Griffin to raise funds by encouraging others to contribute.

“You can have a lot of people raising money for you. And they’re also going to make a contribution,” Lewis said.

Griffin, listed in the campaign report as a Topeka attorney, denied Stewart’s allegation that he collected contributions from third parties, then donated the collections to Lewis’ campaign.

“That’s not the case whatsoever. Everything I contributed came from me. It was under my bank account,” Griffin said.

So far, the two candidates are about even in terms of the campaign cash they have on hand.

Lewis reported a balance of $101,244 in early October; Padilla had $82,365 in the bank.

Lewis’ campaign has received $10,000 from Richardson’s re-election campaign since July, according to Richardson’s report filed earlier this month.

The Treasurer’s Office has been at the center of attention since former treasurers Robert Vigil and Michael Montoya were arrested last year on corruption charges.

Vigil’s second trial ended late last month. He was acquitted on 23 counts and convicted on one count of attempted extortion. The first trial ended in a hung jury.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

This story was co-written with Kate Nash.

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