ALAMOGORDO, New Mexico — The group known as Cowboys for Trump is seeking arbitration in a fight with the New Mexico secretary of state over fines and required reports.
The arbitration request says Cowboys for Trump is protesting the requirements because it argues campaign finance laws violate free speech and the group doesn’t meet the definition of a “political committee,” the Alamogordo Daily News reports.
Cowboys for Trump members say the group is a for-profit organization.
Last year, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver sent a letter to the group and said the organization falls under the definition of a political committee and must hire a treasurer and file biannual reports. These reports are due in April and October each year.
In November, Cowboys for Trump — started by Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin — had yet to file any of the statutorily required financial reports.
A final action letter was sent to Cowboys for Trump and its legal counsel from the New Mexico Secretary of State dated Jan. 15.
In the letter, the secretary of state said the organization owes the state $5,000 in fines for the April 2019 report that was never filed and $2,800 for the October 2019 report.
“The SOS has confirmed that Cowboys for Trump has not registered as a political committee ... although the SOS has documents demonstrating Cowboys for Trump was operating as a political action committee prior to March of 2019,” the letter said.
Fines are accrued at $50 for each working day after the due date that the report is late, not to exceed $5,000.
The arbitration date is set within 30 days of the arbitration request, which was received by the secretary of state on Jan. 31.
According to the New Mexico Campaign Reporting Act, an arbitrator, chosen by Cowboys For Trump, would conduct a hearing and come to a final, binding decision on the matter. The ruling could be appealed to a district court by either party.
The arbitrator may impose any penalty the secretary of state is authorized to impose. No fines are accrued during the arbitration period.
Griffin started a GoFundMe account for a legal defense fund, which had raised more than $15,000 of a $20,000 goal as of Monday.
“We have the fight, we have the stamina, we have the vision but need you to join this fight with us with your financial support,” a statement on the GoFundMe page signed by Griffin said.
In October, New Mexico’s Democratic state auditor said he was investigating a travel reimbursement to Griffin in his capacity as an Otero County commissioner. The Office of the State Auditor said it’s examining whether the reimbursement to Griffin violated state law.
Griffin traveled to Washington in part to attend a Sept. 12 conference with representatives from Western states. A travel voucher listed a meeting with President Donald Trump as the reason for the expense.