The Secretary of State’s Office says it has found no evidence that former San Miguel County treasurer candidate Viola Vigil violated campaign finance laws, and it says that as far as it is concerned, it considers the matter closed.
Local Attorney Jesus Lopez had sought an investigation into whether Vigil followed state law in the spending of her large campaign war chest. In his July letter to Secretary of State Dianna Duran, Attorney General Gary King and District Attorney Richard Flores, Lopez states that Vigil sought a relatively minor county office not associated with large campaign expenditures and that the tens of thousands of dollars Vigil reported spending on her race is out of line with what any other San Miguel County office hopeful has ever spent on a race.
Vigil received $45,000 in old campaign funds from her husband Robert Vigil, the former state treasurer who was convicted of a single count of attempted extortion.
Lopez said the Secretary of State’s Office appears to have done nothing more than take a cursory look at the matter, and he said he may pursue a grand jury investigation into how the campaign funds were spent.
Viola Vigil lost in the primary race for county treasurer to Bertha Bustamante.
Despite outspending her opponents, Vigil came in third in the crowded race, garnering just 19 percent of the vote.
After receiving the complaint from Lopez, the Secretary of State’s Office asked Vigil to respond. Vigil sent a three-page letter to the ethics investigator at the Secretary of State’s Office last month in which she accuses Lopez of having a vendetta against the Vigil family. The Optic obtained the letter recently through a request under the state’s open records law.
“The point to be made is that (Lopez), for whatever reason(s) and unknown to me and the Vigil family, has over the years developed a high level of vindictive, hatred, and animosity toward the Vigil family, and I guess I am now on his list!” she wrote.
She adds that many members of her family “fear for their physical safety.”
She also accuses Lopez and Tom McDonald, the Optic’s editor and publisher of being “co-conspirators of unsupported negativity against the Vigil family,” citing a column written by McDonald about past troubles members of the Vigil family have found themselves in.
“I used and cited multiple sources (for the column),” McDonald said. He denies any conspiracy.
Vigil also states that “given the huge dollar value of negative campaigning conducted by the local newspaper against me, I see 19 percent of the vote as a great success. It would have taken twenty times the amount I was able to spend to have a shot at winning.”
In her letter, Vigil seems to misstate Lopez’s complaint, contending that Lopez is questioning the legality of the $45,000 contribution made by her husband, which everybody concedes was legal. Lopez was actually questioning whether the money was spent on campaign expenditures, as is required by state law.
Vigil also wrote that Lopez’s complaint “does not contain any specific factual information as to how or why any section of the Campaign Reporting Act was violated,” and the Secretary of State’s Office agreed.
“After reviewing the alleged complaint with the response received by Viola Vigil, we do not find evidence of a potential violation of the Campaign Reporting Act in this matter,” Secretary of State’s Office Chief of Staff Ken Ortiz wrote in a Sept. 26 letter to Lopez.
“Furthermore, your complaint did not provide specific factual allegations or violations of the Campaign Reporting Act,” he adds. “As such, we will take no further action and consider this matter closed.”
The Secretary of State’s Office, however, never asked Vigil to verify whether all the campaign funds were spent on campaign expenditures and it never asked for proof, according to correspondence between the Secretary of State’s Office and Vigil turned over to the Optic.
“It appears the Secretary of State’s Office did nothing more than look at the reports submitted by Vigil and accept them at face value,” said Lopez, a former district attorney and former Democratic county chairman. “That is not the type of review contemplated by law, but I suspect the office does not have the personnel or expertise to conduct a real investigation.”
“Perhaps the Attorney General or District Attorney will undertake a serious investigation,” Lopez added. “As an old prosecutor, I know you have to dig deep to uncover the real facts, because a superficial review seldom uncovers the truth. A grand jury may need to be impaneled to look into this seriously, and that is certainly an option I may pursue.
An Optic review of campaign finance reports filed by Vigil as of July found that her campaign made a total of $11,698 in payments to a credit card company from April 23, 2011 to May 23 of this year. Among the justifications she lists for those payments in reports is that the money was paying for campaign signs, travel, miscellaneous supplies and meals.
The Optic review also found that Vigil and her family were paid more than $4,000 in campaign funds to reimburse them for expenditures related to the campaign.