Cowboys for Trump co-founder charged with campaign violation

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FILE - Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin, the founder of Cowboys for Trump, takes in the view from his ranch in Tularosa, N.M., May 12, 2021. Griffin is facing a misdemeanor charge for refusing to register the political group Cowboys for Trump. Democratic Attorney General Hector Balderas announced the charge Friday, March 18, 2022. Griffin sued the New Mexico secretary of state in 2020 in response to mounting pressure on Cowboys for Trump to register as a political committee. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico elected official was charged Friday with a misdemeanor campaign finance violation for refusing to register his political group Cowboys for Trump, the state's attorney general announced.

Couy Griffin, a Republican county commissioner from Tularosa in southern New Mexico, has been facing off with state election regulators for more than a year over whether he needs to register the group as a political committee. Griffin expressed concern that registering may lead to other disclosure requirements about contributions and spending and in 2020 sued the New Mexico secretary of state after she insisted the group must register.

A federal appeals court last month rejected his arguments, upholding a lower court ruling that the reporting requirement is valid. Attorney General Hector Balderas said Friday that leaves Griffin out of compliance with court orders to register the group.

“We live in a nation that ensures that no elected official is above the law,” Balderas, a Democrat, said in a statement. “Citizens have the right to expect reporting and disclosure transparency from all elected officials.”

Griffin forged a group of rodeo acquaintances in 2019 into the promotional group called Cowboys for Trump that staged horseback parades to spread President Donald Trump’s conservative message about gun rights, immigration controls and abortion restrictions.

Griffin told The Associated Press on Friday night that he's planning a fresh challenge to the reporting requirement, this time with Trump attorney Sidney Powell, and expects to find success with the lessons learned from his unsuccessful appeal.

“I feel very strongly that we’re gonna get through this and when we do its going to be a big win,” Griffin said.

Separately, Griffin goes on trial next week in Washington for misdemeanor criminal charges in the Jan. 6. insurrection on the U.S. Capitol, where he appeared on an outdoor terrace and tried to lead the crowd in prayer.

Griffin denies allegations that he knowingly entered barricaded areas of the Capitol grounds with the intent of disrupting government as Congress considered the 2020 Electoral College results, though he has openly ascribed to unsubstantiated claims of fraud in the 2020 election.