Cowboys for Trump resists reveal of financial contributors

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The support group Cowboys for Trump and its founder Couy Griffin are resisting pressure to disclose financial contributors in what could be a test case of a 2019 New Mexico state law that requires greater disclosures of independent political spending.

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Griffin, an Otero County commissioner, is battling state campaign finance regulators in federal court, even as his recent comments about race and politics in the run-up to the November election have been met with outrage among civil rights groups including the NAACP and an array of Democratic New Mexico politicians.

“If our donors and supporters are unmasked and their names are known, then New Mexico is notorious for political hits,” Griffin said. “Their names would be slandered, and they would be attacked for supporting a conservative political movement in New Mexico.”

The New Mexico secretary of state’s office says fines are accruing as Cowboys for Trump ignores an arbitration order to register with the state as a political committee and to disclose contributions and expenditures since January 2019.

Griffin in June filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court “to vindicate right of freedom of speech and association to organize and vocally support the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump.”

The lawsuit describes Cowboys for Trump as an educational initiative that doesn't spend money in support or in opposition to any candidate for office. It accuses Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver of overstepping her authority and preempting federal campaign finance regulations.

“Plaintiff Cowboys for Trump has accepted contributions from supporters to educate the public in support of President Trump’s agenda,” the lawsuit says.

On Friday, the New Mexico State Ethics Commission that shares enforcement authority of the state campaign reporting act declined to wade into the matter, voting unanimously against filing its own civil suit. A proposal to further investigate by subpoena was defeated on a 4-2 vote of the commission.

The secretary of state's office said through agency spokesman Alex Curtas that it is weighing legal options.

Cowboys for Trump members including Griffin have visited state capitals, Washington D.C., and Mount Rushmore on horseback as they show support for Trump and advocate for an anti-abortion and pro-gun rights agenda.

Griffin has been criticized for a Facebook live video last month in which he says some Black NFL players should “go back to Africa” if they wanted to stand at games for “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” — traditionally known as the Black national anthem — as a gesture of solidarity against racial injustice.

Griffin later said the reelection campaign for Trump would distance itself from Cowboys for Trump in response to the video.