Review of the 2017 campaign finance reports for Mayor filed with the City Clerk reveals serious flaws exist in the City’s public finance laws and the rules and regulations governing ethics and campaign practices.
The review confirms just how measured finance committees and big money donations are undercutting the spirit and intent of Albuquerque’ public financing system.
Out of 16 candidates initially running for Mayor, Democrat Tim Keller was the only candidate that was able to qualify for public financing while eight (8) other candidates tried and failed to qualify for public financing with half dropping out of the race.
QUALIFYING DONATIONS AND NOMINATING PETITIONS
All candidates for Mayor are given three months to collect nominating petition signatures from registered voters and only eight (8) secured the required number of signatures.
Collecting the $5 qualifying donations is extremely difficult because candidates are only give six weeks to collect the donations yet are given far more time to collect the nominating petition signatures.
Theoretically, a candidate for Mayor could gather the required number of qualifying donations and yet fail to collect the required number of nominating petition signatures.
It makes no sense giving more than double to time to collect signatures and just six weeks to collect $5 qualifying donations.
The Keller campaign was required to collect 3,000 qualifying cash donations of $5 to the City of Albuquerque from Albuquerque registered voters over a six-week period, which is a daunting and very difficult task for anyone.
If a candidate seeking public financing donations does not secure the 3,000 qualifying $5 donations, all the money reverts to the city and not kept by the candidate that collected the donations.
Candidates that decide to go with private financing as well as measured finance committees for candidates can solicit unlimited cash donations from any source including out of city and state contributions.
With public financing, paper receipts had to and issue and copies of paper receipts and the cash was turned into city hall.
Once qualified, the Keller for Mayor campaign was given $506,254 in public financing.
As a condition to receiving public financing from the City, a public financed candidate must agree to a spending cap not to exceed the amount given and agree not to raise and spend any more cash to financed their campaign.
KELLER’S $1.35 MILLION CAMPAIGN FOR MAYOR
Notwithstanding being a public finance candidate, Keller had three (3) measured finance committees that either raised money directly to spend on his behalf or that indirectly spent money and supported him financially.
ABQ Forward Together was a measured finance committee that was formed specifically to raise money to promote Tim Keller for Mayor and it raised over $663,000 for Keller.
ABQ Forward Together was chaired by a former campaign consultant for Mr. Keller when he ran successfully for New Mexico State Senate.
$1,358,254 was actually spent on Tim Keller’s successful campaign for Mayor ($506,254 public finance money + $663,000 ABQ Forward + $67,000 ABQFIREPAC + $122,000 ABQ Working Families = $1,358,254.)
Republican Dan Lewis raised more than $847,000 in cash contributions for the October election and the November Mayoral runoff election.
Democrat Brian Colón raised and spent nearly $824,000 for his unsuccessful mayoral run.
Republican Wayne Johnson privately raised and spent approximately $250,000.
Republican Ricardo Chavez finance his own campaign by contributing and loaning his campaign $1 million dollars, but when he dropped out of the race all of the money was repaid to him after he spent approximately $200,000.
The remaining three (3) candidates for Mayor raised and spent less than $50,000 combined after failing to qualify for public financing.
BOARD OF ETHICS AND CAMPAIGN PRACTICES
The City Charter contains the city’s election code and creates the Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices where complaints can be filed and investigated for campaign practice violations.
(See City Charter Article XIII, Election Code, Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices; Rules & Regulations)
The Rules and Regulations of the City of Albuquerque Finance laws, creates the position of “Campaign and Election Auditor.”
The duties and responsibility of the Campaign and Election Auditor is to monitor all campaign finance disclosure statement to examine the accuracy and compliance by the person filing such statement with the provisions of the election code and with the Rules and Regulations promulgated by the Board and provide such other services as required by the Board.
The Board of Ethics and Campaign Finance laws does provide that candidates can be sanctioned, fined or for that matter removed from office if elected for violations of the finance laws.
If a candidate is found to have violated the election conde and is the successful candidate in the election, the Board of Ethics may recommend to the City Council that the violator be removed from office.
The US Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United basically said that organizations, corporations, unions and others can spend as much as they want as long as they don’t coordinate their activities with candidate, but this is federal election law.
There were a number of ethics complaints filed against Tim Keller, Dan Lewis and Wayne Johnson for violations of the campaign practices act, and all were eventually dismissed.
One complaint filed against Tim Keller’s campaign involved the allegation that “cash donations” for political consulting were reported as “in-kind” donations.
The Election Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices ruled that the cash contributions were in fact an ethical violation but that the Keller Campaign acted in good faith and there was an “unintentional” violation of the ordinances with the Keller Campaign receiving an admonishment and with no fines.
A second complaint file against the Keller campaign was that the Keller Campaign for Mayor committee was coordinating their campaign and expenditures with ABQ Forward Together, the separate measured finance campaign committee headed up by one by of Keller’s former campaign managers for State Senate with the complaint dismissed with a finding of no coordination.
City of Albuquerque campaign reporting and finance ordinances do not have any specific provisions that actually nor specifically prohibit the coordination of expenditures and campaign activities with measured finance committees and candidates in municipal elections.
PROPOSED CHANGES TO PUBLIC FINANCE AND BOARD OF ETHICS AND CAMPAIGN PRACTICES.
Public finance laws should not be set up to make it too difficult to qualify for public financing.
Following are recommendations for changes to the City’s public finance and election laws that are in order:
1. Allow four (4) months and two (2) weeks, from January 1 to May 15, to collected both the qualifying donations and petition signatures, and private campaign donation collection.
2. Allow the collection of the qualifying donations from anyone who wants, and not just residents or registered voters of Albuquerque. Privately finance candidates now can collect donations from anyone they want and anywhere in the State and Country.
3. A public finance candidate who fails to secure the requisite nominating petition signatures, but secures the requisite $5 qualifying donations would be disqualified from the public financing .
4. Once the allowed number of qualifying donations is collected, the public financing would be made immediately available, but not allowed to be spent until starting May 15.
5. Permit campaign spending for both publicly financed and privately financed candidates only from May 15 to the October election day.
6. Return to candidates for their use in their campaign any qualifying donations the candidate has collected when the candidate fails to secure the required number of qualifying donations to get the public financing.
7. Mandate the City Clerk to issue debit card or credit card collection devices to collect the qualifying donations and to issue receipts and eliminate the mandatory use of “paper receipts”.
8. Increase from $1.00 to $2.50 per registered voter the amount of public financing, which will be approximately $900,000, and allow for incremental increases of 10% every election cycle keeping up with inflation.
9. Allow for additional matching public financing available for run offs at the rate of $1.25 per registered voter, or $450,000.
10. Albuquerque should make every effort to make municipal elections partisan elections to be held along with State and Federal elections by seeking a constitutional amendment from the legislature to be voted upon by the public.
11. Any money raised and spent by measured finance committees on behalf a candidate should be required to first be applied to reimburse the City for any taxpayer money advanced to a public finance candidate or deducted from a publicly financed candidates account and returned to the city.
12. City of Albuquerque campaign reporting and finance ordinances and regulations need to define with absolute clarity that strictly prohibit the coordination of expenditures and campaign activities with measured finance committees and individual candidate’s campaigns in municipal elections.
13. A mandatory schedule of fines and penalties for violations of the code of ethics and campaign practices act should be enacted by the City Council.
Every effort should be made to make Albuquerque’s public financing laws for municipal elections to legally provide for a “dollar for dollar” match to privately raised funds by candidates, thereby providing a real level playing field.
The influence of big money in elections allowed by the US Supreme Court decision in Citizens United is destroying our democracy.
Many highly qualified candidates for office all too often do not bother to run because of the inability or difficulty raising the necessary money to run.
Political campaign fundraising and big money influence are warping our election process.
Money spent becomes equated with the final vote.
Money drives the message, affects voter turnout and ultimately the outcome of an election.
Albuquerque municipal elections need campaign finance reform and enforcement.
2018 should be the year the City Council and the Mayor take action on campaign finance reform in anticipation of the 2019 municipal election.