Over a year ago on January 7, 2019, Mayor Tim Keller announced the creation of the One Albuquerque Foundation. It’s a foundation formed by the city to collect donations from the general public to support city initiatives and projects. According to the city’s website page:
“… the endowment Fund raises funds in support of and to supplement measurable city priorities, including the housing voucher program for people experiencing homelessness, recruiting and retaining public safety officers, expanding opportunities for young people in Albuquerque, and equipping our workforce with the skills they need to succeed. Additional funding for these priorities will accelerate progress and help scale significant investments the City is already making go much farther, much faster.”
The web page described the fund as akin to the Mayor’s Charity Ball which raised money to be distributed to charitable efforts. It really is not, because with the Mayor’s Charity ball, the money raised was given to charitable causes, while the One Albuquerque Fund collects donations for the city and gives it to city priorities and projects, not charitable organizations or causes.
ONE ALBUQUERQUE FOUNDATION IS A 509(A)(3) SUPPORTING ORGANIZATION
On September 23, 2019, city officials estimated that the One Albuquerque Foundation could bring in as much as $400,000 annually. At the time, the city said it intended to apply donations to first responder recruitment, homelessness reduction efforts, youth programming and workforce development. Mayor Keller for his part said of the One Albuquerque Foundation:
“Every day, people in Albuquerque ask how they can step up and be part of addressing our city’s greatest challenges.”
According to news reports, the One Albuquerque Foundation is a 509(a)(3) supporting organization under the Internal Revenue (IRS) Code. Internal Revenue Service regulations state:
“A supporting organization is a charity that carries out its exempt purposes by supporting other exempt organizations, usually other public charities. … This classification is important because it is one means by which a charity can avoid classification as a private foundation, a status that is subject to a more restrictive regulatory regime.”
The One Albuquerque Foundation has no designated staff but it does have a board of directors. The board president is Charles Ashley III. A contract for fundraising has been negotiated by the board and the board makes necessary staffing decisions according to city spokeswoman Jessie Damazyn.
The city says the foundation complies with the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA), New Mexico’s sunshine law. Some local foundations that exist solely to support public entities do not adhered to IPRA. The University of New Mexico Foundation is the best example. According to city spokeswoman Jessie Damazyn, the foundation “will comply with IPRA at the direction of Mayor Keller.”
On January 6, 2020, a year from the date it was created, Mayor Tim Keller held a press conference at a Downtown restaurant attended by city officials and members of the business community to formally launch the “One Albuquerque Fund”. Mayor Keller announced that since the One Albuquerque Fund was announced, the fund has raised $200,000. According to One Albuquerque Foundation president Charles Ashley III, none of the money currently in the fund came from diverting money from existing city programs.
During the press conference, the foundation presented checks of $5,000 to fund APD police recruitment efforts and $20,000 to provide additional housing vouchers for the homeless. The foundation’s board of directors has identified four areas that it wants to provide funding to:
1. Police recruitment
2. Job training
3. Homeless and
4. Youth initiatives
During the press conference Mayor Tim Keller had this to say about the One Albuquerque Foundation:
“[This is] the best way for the city to partner with businesses, individuals, nonprofits and foundations, because we’re all in this together as One Albuquerque. [It allows the city to better] facilitate public-private partnerships to deal with some of our biggest issues.”
35 ENTITIES AND INDIVIDUALS DONATE $248,250 TO KELER’S FOUNDATION
On February 7, the Albuquerque Journal reported that the Albuquerque One Foundation has raised nearly $250,000. Records provided by the city pursuant to a request for public records show most of the money is not coming from individual citizens but rather a cross section of well-known businesses and individuals. The donations that make up the $250,000 are not small donations from people but are in the thousands made by a few.
All told, 35 entities and individuals donated $248,250 to the fund. A breakdown of the larger donations made are as follows:
Garcia Subaru: $50,000. This is the single largest donation. Garcia Subaru is owned by the Garcia family, which also own several car dealerships, including Honda, Volkswagen, Infiniti, Cadillac, Mercedes, Jaguar, Land Rover and Alfa Romeo. The Garcia family also own significant parcels of commercial real estate in the Old Town Area and has a stake in the New Mexico United professional soccer team, with the city currently looking for a new site for a soccer stadium.
Comcast: $10,000 Comcast is the city’s cable contract provider.
New Mexico Gas Co.: $10,000. New Mexico Gas Co. has a utility franchise agreement that is subject to renewal with the city and pays a franchise fee to the city.
Blue Shield of New Mexico: $10,000. Blue Shield in the past has been a health care provider insurance carrier to city hall employees.
Netflix: $10,000. In 2018, Mayor Keller signed off on a $4.5 million city economic incentive package to assist NETFLEX in its purchase of Albuquerque Studios.
Golden Pride Chicken: $20,000, owners Larry and Dorothy Rainosek.
Frontier Restaurant: $5,000, owners Larry and Dorothy Rainosek.
Restaurants such as Golden Pride and the Frontier Restaurant must maintain a license to do business with the city and are subject to the zoning and code enforcement regulations including health code inspections.
Fresquez Concessions: $20,000. Fresquez Concessions has the current contract to run all the food and beverage concessions at the Albuquerque International Sunport.
Bradbury Stamm Construction: $10,000. Braburry and Stamm was the main general contractor for the $130,000,000 Art Bus Project and consistently bids on city construction contracts.
Property management company RMCI: $10,000. RMCI currently lists commercial properties in Albuquerque for sale.
Only six people made donations under their individual names. Those individuals making donations include:
Doug Brown, the president of the University of New Mexico Board of Regents: $5,000
Gary Goodman, the real estate developer behind Winrock Town Center: $5,000. Winrock Town Center is being developed under a Tax Increment District (TID) with all construction and development subject to City Planning Department review and approval
Nick Kapnison, owner of Nick and Jimmy’s Restaurant, Mikinos Creek Restaurant and El Patron Mexican Restaurant: $3,350.
Restaurants must maintain a license to do business with the city and are subject to the zoning and code enforcement regulations including health code inspections.
MAYOR KELLER PERSONALLY INVOLVED WITH SOLICITING DONATIONS
Mayoral spokeswoman Jessie Damazyn confirmed that many contributions made to the One Albuquerque Foundation came in response to face-to-face requests made by Mayor Tim Keller himself to meet with donors. Damazyn did not say exactly how many of the existing donors Keller met with personally to solicit contributions, but said that he had talked with “nearly all” of those on the list of 35 as well as many others “in contexts from coffees to community events to speaking engagements about how they can play a role from volunteering to donating.”
Golden Pride and Frontier owner Larry Rainosek said he donated the $25,000 after a meeting with Keller that the mayor’s office had arranged with him. Rainosek said he did not think his contribution bought influence with the mayor. However, he said the meeting about the foundation that eventually cost $25,000 gave him a long-awaited opportunity to air his grievances about Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) project and some changes he would like to see in the future.
Rainosack was a strong opponent of the ART Bus project and made it known that the ART Bus project was a disaster to his Frontier Restaurant and destroyed the character of Route 66. Rainosek is a highly respected and successful businessman. He should be entitled to express his opinion just like any other citizen without having to make any kind of donation requested by the Mayor, but none the less he obviously felt compelled to make the donation especially when he said:
“[Mayor Keller] had his agenda … and I had mine. … We always try to do things that will benefit the city and community”.
OVERSIGHT DEPARTMENTS FOR CORRUPTION
There are two primary, independent departments that function independent from the Mayor’s Office and City Council that that are primarily tasked for investigation of misconduct within city hall: the City Office of Independent Audit and the Office of Inspector General. Both can initiate investigations on their own. The City of Albuquerque Office of Independent Audits is designed to promote transparency, accountability, efficiency and effectiveness of City government. The responsibilities of the office of Inspector General include:
• Investigation of suspected corrupt City elected and appointed leaders
• Investigation of employees suspected of misconduct
• Investigations of suspected fraud, waste, mismanagement and abuse
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The propriety of Mayor Tim Keller scheduling meetings to solicit private denotations for his charitable foundation from those who do business with the city or who interacts with city departments and who want to talk with him is so very, very wrong on so many levels with respect to ethical conduct and the appearance of impropriety. The solicitations by Mayor Keller during city business smacks of “pay to play” at worst and at best gives the appearance of impropriety and the exertion of political influence to compel donations from those who do business with the City of Albuquerque, either by contract or being regulated by city departments.
Donations of $50,000, $20,000, $10,000 and $5,000 as were made in the political world more likely than not come with the expectations of at least access to the elected official or a candidate and even commitments to be performed. What is very disturbing is that Keller had his office arranged the meetings, had the private conversations, but nothing is disclosed as to what was discussed, how the donation amounts were determined nor what commitments, if any were made, by Keller to the donors or the donors to Keller. On November 5, election night, Keller made it known on an election night radio program he is running for a second term in 2021. It is reasonable to assume that Keller when he solicited the donors to his foundation also solicited their support of him for his reelection bid and even donate to his campaign when the time was right. Arm twisting to make donations, even with Mayor Keller’s smile and knack for pleasant conversation and likeability, is still arm twisting and influence peddling.
The biggest argument that is being made publicly for the creation of the One Albuquerque Fund by Mayor Keller is that institutions such as the Albuquerque Public Schools, Central New Mexico Community College and the University of New Mexico all have their own foundations to support those entities and the City of Albuquerque should have its own foundation. The argument is bogus. The City has unilateral taxing authority that can be enacted by the City Council whenever it chooses while all the other institutions must rely upon the New Mexico Legislature for their funding. It is highly doubtful the One Albuquerque foundation is a 509(a)(3) supporting organization because the city is not a charity that carries out its exempt purposes by supporting other exempt organizations or other public charities. It’s a government entity responsible for essential services.
It is difficult to understand Mayor Keller’s motivation with One Albuquerque Foundation when he says “[This is] the best way for the city to partner with businesses, individuals, nonprofits and foundations … .” Simply put, no its not. The Albuquerque Community Foundation has been in existence for decades that is doing many of the things being suggested for One Albuquerque. Charitable donations from the general public are difficult enough as it is for private charitable organizations such as the United Way and the Albuquerque Community Foundation and now they have to compete with the Mayor’s One Albuquerque Foundation so he can say “we are all in this together”. The “United Way” charitable foundation sends the very same message and at one time city hall employees were allowed to participate in “United Way” fundraising and it was discontinued by Keller’s predecessor.
It is a pathetic practice for any government entity and its elected Mayor to solicit donations from the general public to carry out it duties and responsibilities to the public, especially when it has already allocated millions to specific causes in a $1.1 Billion budget such as police recruitment, job training and vouchers to provide temporary housing for the homeless. The City of Albuquerque is bloated not only with a $1.1 Billion Budget, but $55 Million Tax Increase revenues from a 2019 enacted tax that Keller agreed to breaking a his campaign promise to raise taxes without a public vote, a $35 Million Orphan Month Windfall as well as $30.5 million in lodger tax bond revenues. Mayor Keller’s approach is to ask for even more funding for his charitable foundation. Such a request reflects a total disconnect from reality. It reflects management negligence and an inability to live within one means and always demanding more.
To be perfectly blunt, Mayor Tim Keller needs to knock it off with his solicitation of donations for his charitable foundation from people who do business with the city, disavow any connection with it and step back and have a clean break from the foundation. Further, the Offices of General Counsel and Independent Audit need to review the fund-raising activities of the Mayor for the foundation and determine if his efforts were unethical and the propriety of the Foundation. At a bare minimum, all 35 donors need to be interviewed to determine what promises and commitments were made and if done in the context of any re election bid.
In the eyes of many city hall insiders, observers and and a few city hall confidential sources, Keller engaged in unethical conduct with his Charitable Foundation, but his top Administration Officials have gone along with it without any objection because he is “the Mayor”. For Keller to continue with the solicitation of donations by him will only make things worse and tarnish his reputation even further and no doubt will become an issue as he seeks a second term.
On Thursday, February 20, the Albuquerque Journal published the following editorial:
Editorial Headline: ABQ may need a foundation, but not fundraiser in chief
“The One Albuquerque Fund sounds like a good idea. Launched last year by the city, it is designed to attract additional resources “in support of and to supplement city priorities.” Some examples: spending on police recruiting, housing vouchers and workforce development.
While all are fine ideas for the city to pursue given its police manpower shortage and homelessness issues, they also sound a whole lot like a political agenda.
And while there is no evidence of impropriety, when it comes to appearances Mayor Tim Keller is skating on thin ethical ice by personally soliciting money to help with pet projects that may help his political future.
First, it’s important to note the city’s elected officials can’t solicit campaign contributions – or receive them – from vendors who do business with the city. The same is true for Bernalillo County commissioners. And the reasons for that should be obvious. It just looks bad.
All told, according to a story published Monday by Journal reporter Jessica Dyer, 35 entities and individuals have ponied up $248,250 in contributions to the One Albuquerque Fund.
Keller spokesman Jessie Damazyn didn’t say how many donors Keller had met with personally but did say he had talked with “nearly all” of them. Fresquez Concessions, which has an active agreement with the city to run all food and beverage business at the Albuquerque International Sunport, contributed $20,000.
Other heavy hitters on the list who aren’t vendors but some of whose operations could intersect with city regulators include Comcast, Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Mexico, New Mexico Gas Co., McDonald’s and Netflix. They have given $10,000 each.
The real estate and development industry also has contributed. Bradbury Stamm and property management company RMCI each gave $10,000. Real estate developer Gary Goodman kicked in $5,000, as did local restaurateur Nick Kapnison.
Golden Pride Chicken gave $20,000, and Frontier Restaurant gave $5,000. Both are owned by Larry Rainosek, who said he made the donations after a meeting with Keller that was set up by the Mayor’s Office.
Rainosek is an incredibly successful businessman, as well as a philanthropist who supports other causes. There is no reason to doubt him when he says “we always try to do things that will benefit the city and the community.”
Rainosek said he didn’t think the contribution bought influence but said the meeting about the foundation gave him a long-awaited opportunity to air his grievances about Albuquerque Rapid Transit and some changes he would like to see.
“He had his agenda,” Rainosek said. “And I had mine.”
It’s perfectly reasonable for Rainosek to want to vent his frustrations and objections to the mayor about ART. The problem is in the ask by the mayor, and that it appears Rainosek didn’t get a chance to air those grievances until the mayor wanted a donation for his foundation.
Meanwhile, Damazyn said donations would not affect how the city chooses contractors, citing the city’s procurement process. She also noted other entities like Albuquerque Public Schools and the University of New Mexico have foundations.
And while it is a big plus that the city foundation will comply with the state Inspection of Public Records Act, according to Damazyn (the UNM Foundation has argued in court it is not subject to the state’s public records law), it is important to note APS and UNM have separate boards so the superintendent and president can do their jobs running their respective operations rather than a perennial fundraising tour of pet projects.
If Keller wants the One Albuquerque Fund to succeed and prosper, with no political taint, he can’t be fundraiser in chief as well as mayor. He needs to remove himself from the fundraising process and let the foundation rise or fall on the work it does.”
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.
The Albuquerque Journal editorial was a lot more diplomatic than I was in my blog article. As far as I am concerned the Journal let Keller off way too easy. My reasons are clear, Keller made a reputation as State Auditor to run for Mayor on the carefully cultivated image of being a crusader against “waste, fraud and abuse” of public money. Charitable donations are no different. To be perfectly blunt, Mayor Tim Keller needs to knock it off with his solicitation of donations for his charitable foundation from people who do business with the city, disavow any connection with it and step back and have a clean break from the foundation. Further, the Offices of General Counsel and Independent Audit need to review the fund-raising activities of the Mayor for the foundation and determine if his efforts were unethical and the propriety of the Foundation. At a bare minimum, all 35 donors need to be interviewed to determine what promises and commitments were made and if done in the context of any reelection bid.