Since the enactment of the City Charter creating Albuquerque’s Mayor/City Council form of government, municipal elections have been held every two years of odd-number years in October on the first Tuesday of October, with run offs held six weeks later and the winner sworn in on December 1 after the runoff.
The New Mexico legislature during the 2018 legislative session enacted the Local Election Act which went into effect July 1, 2018.
The Local Election Act requires municipalities like Albuquerque to either move their municipal elections to a consolidated local election in November of odd-numbered years or hold non-consolidated elections in March of even-numbered years.
On November 19, 2018, the Albuquerque City Council unanimously approved a measure moving Albuquerque’s municipal elections from October to November of an election year to comply with the Local Election Act.
The November election date also moves municipal runoff elections to December and term starting dates to January.
PUBLIC FINANCING CHARTER AMENDMENT ENACTED
The City Council also approved a charter amendment that will require voter approval making changes in the city public financing of candidates.
The proposed changes in the charter amendment include:
1. Increasing city public financing distribution for mayoral and council races from $1 per voter to $1.75 cents per voter for regular elections and from 33 cents to 60 cents for runoff elections.
2. Increasing “seed money” from $100 per person to $250 per person.
3. The aggregate amount of seed money will be increased from 10% to 20% of distribution, but the distribution would be reduced by the amount of seed money collected.
4. The length of the qualifying period to collect will be increased and match dates to the petition signature period for mayoral and council races.
5. Another proposal increases the length of qualifying period and match dates to the petition signature period for mayoral and council races.
The charter amendment will require voter approval with a special election, but the city council voted to defer for 60 days scheduling a mail-in special election on the proposed city charter amendment.
The City Council approved an election code ordinance bill designed to “encourage compliance with election laws and discourage frivolous complaints.”
The new election code ordinance will clarify and add definitions to establish expectations for candidates, close campaign finance loopholes and make the campaign finance reporting schedule match the state’s schedule.
The approved ordinance changes the definition of a candidate to include people who raise or spend more than $1,000.
The new election code ordinance also creates an administrative process for the city to respond to potential election code issues.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The Albuquerque City Council has once again ignored making any real attempt at campaign finance reform.
The proposed charter amendment only addresses changes in the election date and the time frame for collecting qualifying signatures to get on the ballot.
Candidates for Mayor and City Council are given three months to collect nominating petition signatures from registered voters.
However, under the city’s public financing laws, candidates are only given six weeks to collect $5 qualifying donations which is a very difficult and daunting task unless you’re an incumbent and have done it before.
It makes no sense giving more than double to time to collect qualifying signatures and just six weeks to collect $5 qualifying donations to secure public financing.
If a candidate seeking public financing donations does not secure the qualifying $5 donations, all the money reverts to the city and not kept by the candidate that collected the donations.
Further, no effort was made to address the disparity between public financed candidates, privately financed candidates and measured finance committees.
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.
Public finance laws should not be set up to make it too difficult to qualify for public financing.
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.
Following are recommendations for changes to the City’s public finance laws outlined in a January 2, 2018 blog article on the city’s public finance ordinance:
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. 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.
4. Permit campaign spending for both publicly financed and privately financed candidates only from May 15 to the October election day.
5. 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.
6. 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”.
7. 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.
8. Allow for additional matching public financing available for run offs at the rate of $1.25 per registered voter, or $450,000.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. 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.