Ronchetti campaign receives donation from fake NM elector

Examining transparency and public trust with NM Ethics Watch

By: - August 17, 2022 4:40 am

Mark Ronchetti, GOP candidate for New Mexico governor (Screengrab from Ronchetti campaign video)

Gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti received a cash donation from a man implicated in a scheme to falsely award the state’s electoral votes to Donald Trump, a finance report filed last month shows.

Lupe L. Garcia and four others signed phony legal documents and submitted them to the National Archives in an attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. At the end of June, Garcia donated $2,000 to Ronchetti’s campaign, and the campaign hasn’t responded to questions about the donation.

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Kathleen Sabo, the executive director of the nonpartisan New Mexico Ethics Watch, said she’s concerned with the lack of transparency, because without the campaign addressing the donation, voters don’t know whether Ronchetti supports the efforts of the fake electors or not.

“The hallmark of running anything ethical, whether its government or a good campaign, is transparency and honesty,” Sabo said. “We always encourage public servants to adopt the highest standard of ethics in order to increase the public’s trust.”

Whether or not accepting the donation is ethical is more difficult to define, Sabo said, largely because the fake elector scheme is unprecedented in the history of American elections. This makes it difficult to draw comparisons to other situations.

A close analogy would be a hypothetical candidate running for office in a state where abortion is now illegal, Sabo said. If the candidate accepted a donation from a person or group that advocates for reproductive rights, the candidate would likely declare publicly that the donation indicated they are in favor of restoring a person’s right to choose in that state, and that the issue was part of their political platform.

Since Ronchetti has not said if he’s keeping Garcia’s donation or not, voters don’t know whether he agrees or disagrees with what Garcia and the other fake electors attempted to do.

“If you accept that transparency is a major tenant of an ethical undertaking of any kind, the ethical thing to do would be to reveal whether there was any connection to accepting this donation to supporting the fake electors’ attempt, or if that would be something he would support in the future,” Sabo said.

Jessica Feezell, an associate professor with the University of New Mexico’s political science department, said that for her, the donation raises some ethical issues, but moreover, she believes it signals that Garcia sees Ronchetti as being aligned with his political views.

“Ronchetti can accept money from whomever he wants to, and use it however he wants to,” she said. “Probably the more important thing to recognize is that a fake elector sees Mark Ronchetti as the candidate for them.”

No comment

Ronchetti did not respond to multiple requests for comment, starting Monday, Aug. 8, and did not address a question about whether Garcia’s donation was accepted. We held the story to give the campaign ample time to respond. Garcia, a 76-year-old businessman from Española, could not be reached for comment. We will update this story if we hear back from either party. 

Fake filings

The phony paperwork signed by Garcia falsely allocated New Mexico’s electoral votes from the 2020 election to Trump. President Joe Biden won the state by 10 percentage points.

New Mexico was one of seven states that filed fake elector documents. The goal of the scheme, which involved 84 Republicans, was to have alternate slates of electors in place so that Congress could accept those and reject the official slates.

Republicans behind the scheme saw it as a contingency, and New Mexico’s fake elector documents differ slightly from most of the others in that wording alluding to a contingency was expressly written into the document.

“[I]t might later be determined that we are the duly elected and qualified Electors for President and Vice President of the United States of America from the State of New Mexico…,” the document stated.

Pennsylvania is the only other state to include this sort of contingency wording. Documents filed by fake electors in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin didn’t hedge.

How the Trump fake elector scheme fizzled in four states

Electors in each state were required to sign documents certifying their state’s election results by Dec. 14. When that date arrived, there was still no real evidence disputing the 2020 election results, making any contingency unnecessary.

The congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack subpoenaed at least 14 of the counterfeit electors as part of the investigation into attempts by Trump and his allies to overturn the election results.

The committee also agreed to share 20 transcripts regarding the false electors scheme with the Department of Justice.

Garcia is not among those subpoenaed, but two signers of the fake New Mexico document were: Jewll Powdrell and Deborah W. Maestas. Powdrell is listed as the chairperson for the slate of alternative electors, and Maestas is listed as the secretary.

Sabo with New Mexico Ethics Watch said that while the ethicality of the donation to Ronchetti is difficult to delineate, the fact the fake elector scheme has gained congressional attention — and because there could be a criminal investigation by the DOJ — Ronchetti’s acceptance of Garcia’s money ultimately raises concerns.

“To me, the lack of transparency about what the acceptance of a contribution means is a clear ethical issue,” she said. “It’s that lack of transparency that at least borders on the unethical.”


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Ryan Lowery
Ryan Lowery

Ryan Lowery is an award-winning independent journalist based in Albuquerque. He covers politics and criminal justice and has reported on New Mexico for the Las Vegas Optic, Santa Fe Reporter, Los Angeles Times and others. Lowery was awarded the 2020 William S. Dixon First Amendment Freedom Award from the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, and the 2021 Sunshine Award from the New Mexico Press Association for his reporting that highlighted lack of transparency from multiple government agencies.