UNM regent Jack Fortner contributed more than $40,000 to Governor-Elect Susana Martinez and was recently appointed to her higher education transition team.
Fortner made five contributions totaling $40,250, including a $20,000 donation to Martinez’s campaign just weeks before Election Day.
“Two years ago, I was planning on running for governor, and I set aside $200,000 for my campaign,” Fortner said. “I made my contributions with the money I set aside.”
Fortner’s other contributions were $2,500 on April 28, $10,000 on May 25, $3,250 on June 1, $2,500 on June 8 and $2,000 on Sept. 10, according to the campaign finance information system on the Secretary of State’s website.
New Mexico campaign finance law allows individuals to make unlimited donations to candidates running for state office. Fortner’s responsibility on the higher education transition team is to help identify candidates for cabinet-level positions.
Other members include: Artesia School District Superintendent Mike Phipps, Santa Fe school teacher Michelle Garcia, former Air Force Academy Superintendent Bradley Hosmer, Las Cruces business owner Kari Mitchell and associate professor at New Mexico State University Jose Garcia, the chairman of the search committee.
The Martinez transition team could not be reached for a comment on the appointments.
Fortner said he met Martinez during the Republican primary early in 2010.
“I was impressed when I met Susana and felt strongly that she was a candidate I was comfortable donating to,” he said.
UNM political science associate professor Gabriel Sanchez said he is less concerned about Fortner’s appointment, but a red flag should be raised if Fortner landed a full-time cabinet position.
“I think that this could, however, be fair game for criticism given (Martinez’s) harsh tone about cronyism within the Richardson administration, especially if you find that it is not limited to just this one individual,” Sanchez said.
Throughout the campaign, Martinez attacked her opponent Diane Denish for supporting a pay-to-play system in her eight years as lieutenant governor.
“Denish has sat by idly and did nothing as corruption ran rampant around her,” Martinez said in a campaign statement. “She represents the status quo and would be nothing more than an extension of the current administration and its corrupt ways.”
Fortner said there is no connection between his appointment to the transition team and his campaign donations.
Fortner’s term as a regent ends in January, Martinez’s first month as governor. He has been a UNM regent since 1999 when he was appointed by former Republican Gov. Gary Johnson. Martinez can reappoint Fortner to his regent position.
“That’s something we have not even discussed,” Fortner said.
Out of the six UNM regents, Fortner contributed the most this election cycle. Fortner was the only regent to contribute to Martinez. The remaining five donated money to Denish.
Regent Jamie Koch said Fortner is an active Republican in New Mexico and was in his right to contribute any amount of money he wanted.
“Politics in New Mexico is self-funded,” he said. “I do think there are people who do pay to play, but Jack Fortner is not one of those.”
Fortner also donated the maximum allowed by the Federal Election Commission, $2,500 per individual, to Steve Pearce, who won the U.S. House District 2 seat in southern New Mexico against Harry Teague. Fortner lives in Farmington.
“I also gave some to Matt Chandler,” Fortner said, referring to the Republican candidate for state attorney general.
Fortner has a consistent history contributing to Republican candidates. In 2008, he gave maximum contributions to John McCain and Darren White. He also said he contributes money to the University he serves.
“I’ve given $12,000 to the Lobo Club, and I pay tuition for my daughter,” he said.