State Treasurer Laura Montoya has been fined $1,000 for violating the Campaign Reporting Act by knowingly receiving a $10,000 “straw donation” during her campaign for the office.

A straw donor takes someone’s campaign contribution and gives it to the campaign in their own name, disguising who the money came from, which is illegal because campaigns must disclose who gave each contribution.

Montoya’s predecessor, Tim Eichenberg, filed the ethics complaint that led to State Ethics Commission hearing officer Alan Torgerson’s finding that Montoya’s campaign received contributions from two companies — Sheriff’s Posse Road 1 and Sheriff’s Posse Road 2 — managed by property developer Gary Plante and misreported those contributions as being from political action committee Adelante Sandoval.

“We disagree with the judge’s ruling,” said attorney Kenneth Stalter, who is representing Montoya. “I don’t think the evidence supports it, so we’re looking at the options for appeal.”

Montoya has until Oct. 30 to file an appeal.

Torgerson declined to order the forfeiture of the $10,000 in contributions because he found little evidence of bad faith or of public harm.

According to the hearing officer’s findings, Plante first met Montoya in person in September 2021, during a group lunch meeting he organized at which she talked about her campaign and requested campaign donations.

Minutes after the lunch, Montoya texted Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver asking for a clarification about campaign contribution limits when receiving a $10,000 donation from a PAC, according to the findings. She then sent a follow up text, “Thank you for helping me clear it up. I just wanted to make sure we report it correctly.”

Later in the day, Montoya got a text from Chris Daul, the Adelante Sandoval PAC treasurer, that he was trying to call her. Two hours later she sent him a “thumbs up” emoji and a screenshot of the text to Toulouse Oliver.

Montoya testified that she did not remember what she talked with Daul about or why she asked about campaign contribution limits, and that she did not know the contributions came from the Sheriff’s Posse Road companies until after the ethics complaint was filed.

According to the respondent’s proposed findings of fact, Montoya believed the support Plante had mentioned to her was a donation that came from a different company.

According to the hearing officer’s findings, after the lunch, Plante went with Donald Leonard, a campaign volunteer who would become Montoya’s campaign manager in 2022, to get two $5,000 cashiers checks to deposit into the PAC account. Leonard testified that he’d never seen the checks and didn’t know how they got from the bank to Adelante Sandoval.

The checks were deposited in the PAC account on Sept. 21. On Sept. 25, the PAC wrote a $10,000 check for Montoya’s campaign.

Daul testified that he understood the two $5,000 contributions were earmarked for Montoya. He could not remember exactly who told him the donation was earmarked, but he believed it was likely Montoya or Leonard.

Plante testified that he did not remember having a conversation about how Adelante Sandoval should support Montoya, but said, “Obviously, I intended for the PAC to support Laura.”

Torgerson found it “highly unusual that the memories of the witnesses have faded so completely that they are virtually unable to recall anything substantive about the September 21, 2021, afternoon in question, or the fact that a large, apparently unexpected, contribution appeared immediately after a campaign event in Corrales and yet they have no memory of the circumstances or details of that contributions.”

Torgerson issued his decision Friday and imposed a civil penalty of $1,000.

“Straw donor contributions, like those uncovered in this administrative case undermine transparency in our elections,” State Ethics Commission Executive Director Jeremy Farris said in a statement. “If wealthy individuals want to give thousands of dollars to candidates for office, that’s their right; but they can’t do it in secret. New Mexicans also have a right to know who is spending money to influence their votes.”