The Republican Party of New Mexico and Republican candidate for Mayor Wayne Johnson have filed complaints with the Board of Elections and Campaign Practices challenging the cash “in-kind” donations received by Tim Keller as being a violation of the public finance laws prohibiting Mr. Keller from soliciting any further cash donations after accepting public financing.
(See September 9, 2017 Albuquerque Journal, page A-1 “GOP seeks inquiry into Keller campaign; Critics question use of in-kind donations; campaign manager calls complaints frivolous)
At the heart of the allegations are that Tim Keller’s political consultants or manager solicited cash donations from donors and then reported those cash donations as “in kind” donations for goods and service to the campaign.
Charges of “laundering money contributions” are being made against Mr. Keller by the Republican Party and Republican candidate for Mayor Wayne Johnson that just may stick.
THOSE “IN KIND” CASH DONATIONS
The August 11, 2017 Tim Keller for Mayor finance reports reflect that $24,615 of “in kind” donations reflected in cash amounts were made to the Keller campaign.
Notable “in kind” cash donations to the Tim Keller campaign include:
Former New Mexico Lt. Governor Diane Denish ($1,000) who ran for NM Governor with Brian Colon as her running mate for Lt. Governor, New Mexico State Senator Mimi Stewart ($200), John Badal ($1,000), Scott Goodman, Goodman Realty Group ($2,500), Art Gardenshwartz ($1,000), Paul Cochran ($5,000), Joinie Griffin, Griffin & Associates the firm handling the public relations for the ART bus project ($1,000), Adam Harrington, HB Construction ($1,000), IATSE Local 423 ($1,000), William Sabatini ($500), City of Albuquerque Union AFSME Council 18 ($220), APD Police Oversight Board member William Kass ($1,000), Sam Field (1,000), Caporale Consultants ($1,000), Jim Collie ($1,000), Jason Harrignton ($1,000), Debra McFarlan ($500), Virginia Scharff ($500), Polly Jackson ($500).
The September 8, 2017 finance report reflects $3,000 of “in kind” donations in cash amounts were made to the Tim Keller campaign which includes a single “in kind” donation of $2,500 from Ashley and Mathew Proctor.
Most of the checks for the “cash donations” were made out to the political consultant firm Rio Strategies, Mr. Keller’s longtime political consulting firm, but the finance reports list the purpose of the donations as “professional services” with no further explanations.
The cash donations were made after Mr. Keller qualified for public finance and after he was given $342,952 in taxpayer money to run his campaign.
What makes the “in-kind” donations to Mr. Keller’s campaign for “professional services” listed as “cash” donations troubling is that there is no definitive rule or regulation that it is improper, but the solicitation of such donations by Mr. Keller’s campaign manager at the very least undermines the intent and spirit of the public finance laws.
Channel 4 did a lengthy interview with Keller’s campaign manager where she was asked repeatedly about the propriety of the in-kind cash donations for “professional services” but she gave answers that were evasive and at best questionable.
To compound the appearance of impropriety or wrongdoing during the TV interview, Keller’s longtime political consultant Alan Packman with Rio Strategies stood off to the side, unaware he was on camera, fidgeting and swaying back and forth and visibly upset by the line of questioning no doubt realizing the damage that was being done by the campaign manager.
PUBLIC FINANCE AND HOW IT WAS SPENT
To secure public financing from the city, Mr. Keller had to collect 3,802 $5.00 contributions to the city from registered Albuquerque voters and he collected 6,000 which was very impressive and a task he has every right to be proud of by anyone’s standards.
Upon being qualified for public financing, Mr. Keller agreed in writing to spending caps.
Mr. Keller by agreeing to public financing is strictly prohibited from soliciting and using donations from any other source to run for Mayor.
The July 14, 2017 Tim Keller Campaign Finance Report states that on April 3, 2017 the Keller campaign was given $342,952 by the City of Albuquerque in public financing.
The Keller for Mayor Campaign Finance Report filed on July 14, 2017 listed total expenditures of $130,863.63 with $101,978 paid to “Rio Strategies” for “staff salaries and campaign management” and paid $15,000 to “GBA Strategies” for “RESEARCH”, leaving a closing balance of $232,446.09.
The Keller for Mayor August 11, 2017 Campaign Finance Report states that the cash balance from the last reporting period was $232,446 and the closing balance for the second reporting period is $227,229.88.
Mr. Keller is using the same political consulting firm “Rio Strategies” to run for Mayor that he used to run for State Auditor and paid $101,978 to “Rio Strategies” for “staff salaries and campaign management” to run for Mayor out of the $342,952 taxpayer money given to him to run his campaign for Mayor.
FAMILIARTY OF BIG MONEY AND CONSULTANTS IN POLITICS
Tim Keller is very familiar with big money in politics and the use of highly paid political consultants to run for political office.
Mr. Keller in his successful campaign for New Mexico State Auditor in 2014 received contributions of $487,276.66 and had expenditures of $545,372 according to the campaign finance reports filed with the New Mexico Secretary of State.
Under the New Mexico Campaign Reporting Act, New Mexico State Auditor Tim Keller is required to file “Reports of Expenditures and Contributions” biannually and report any contributions solicited and received in his capacity as New Mexico State Auditor.
According to campaign finance and expenditure reports filed in 2016, from January 20, 2016 to December 19, 2016, Mr. Keller paid political consulting firms “Rio Strategies” and “Full Arsenal Strategies” $53,311.30 in “consulting” fees and “retainers” with both firms associated with Mr. Keller’s longtime political consultant Alan Packman.
According to the New Mexico Secretary of State First Biannual “Report of Expenditures and Contributions” filed on April 10, 2017 for the reporting period, Mr. Keller had $22,665.00 total monetary contributions with total expenditures of $30,711.39 and paid $18,951 to his political consulting firms.
IT IS THE APPEARANCE OF IMPROPRIETY THAT LOOKS SO BAD
Tim Keller in his capacity as New Mexico State Auditor has been very public and has garnered extensive state-wide publicity as a government watchdog championing accountability and transparency when it comes to the collection and expenditure of taxpayer money by government agencies.
In his January announcement for Mayor, Tim Keller said “Let’s elect a Mayor without the big money we’ve come to expect in politics. That’s why we are running a community-driven, publicly financed campaign that fits the future of Albuquerque.”
Using high paid political consultants and paying them $101,978 of $342,952 of taxpayer money and spending another $15,000 of taxpayer money for research and polling is not necessarily running a community driven campaign.
It is the appearance of impropriety that looks so damaging coming from a New Mexico State Auditor that has earned a compelling reputation of holding people and government accountable for expending taxpayer money.
When Mr. Keller qualified for public financing, he agreed to a spending cap and agreed not to solicit any cash donations.
An audit can be performed by the city’s Campaign and Election Auditor which is provided for under the election code, rules and regulations to monitor all campaign disclosure statements, but three weeks before the election may not be enough time for a definitive ruling.
However, the damage has been done to the Keller campaign which was done by his own high paid political consultants.
The state Republican Party going after Tim Keller should not come as any surprise, except perhaps those who think Albuquerque municipal elections are nonpartisan.
Four years ago, I had to endure the incumbents $910,000 media campaign versus my $340,000 in public financing campaign all the while the Republican Party smeared me as much as they could while Republican operative Jay Mc Clusky managed the incumbents campaign and ran negative ads.
I was told by too many Democratic elected and party officials that it was a nonpartisan race and they would not help.
My biggest disappointment four years ago was that my own party did very little next to nothing to help my campaign, but that’s politics for you.
The question that remains to be answered is if the Democratic Party will do anything to defend Mr. Keller?
Mr. Keller now needs to decide if his longtime political consultants are worth the money he has paid them or if they have done more damage than good.
How Mr. Keller handles this controversy will go a long way in revealing what kind of Mayor he will be if elected.
If Mr. Keller does not make it into the runoff, I suspect he will know who to blame.