City Clerk Denies Manny Gonzales $661,00 Public Financing After Finding He Submitted Required 3,779 Qualifying $5 Donations; Ethically Challenged Keller Needs To Shut Up And Let City Clerk And Board Of Ethics Do Jobs

In a letter dated July 9, Albuquerque City Clerk Ethan Watson notified Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales’ that the city was denying his campaign $661,00 in public financing for his mayoral campaign. The City Clerk cited questions about potential misconduct in the qualifying process and told Gonzales he could not confirm that Gonzales had complied with the city’s Open and Ethical Election Code and associated regulations. The Clerk also noted 2 ethics complaints Mayor Tim Keller’s reelection campaign filed against Gonzales last month.

City Clerk Watson wrote in the letter to Gonzales:

“The Office of the City Clerk has not reached this decision based on the mere fact that complaints were filed. … The decision instead is based on the conclusion that the evidence submitted to date prevents the Office from certifying that you are entitled to receive $661,309.25 from the Open and Ethical Elections Fund. The Office of the City Clerk cannot provide that certification on the record as it stands today because of the obligation all officials have to safeguard public funds.”

The Gonzales’ for Mayor campaign was quick to respond by alleging that City Clerk Watson was “coerced” by Mayor Tim Keller to deny the public financing. The Gonzales campaign had this to say in a statement,:

“For Tim Keller’s handpicked city clerk to deny our campaign public financing after citizens submitted more than enough qualifying contributions demonstrates a stunning level of arrogance and contempt for the voters of Albuquerque.”


According to the city clerk’s letter to Gonzales, he has three business days to appeal the City’s Clerk Decision or until Wednesday Jul 14. Such and appeal will mandate a hearing before a City hearing officer.

On Monday, July 12, Manny Gonzales filed an appeal of the Albuquerque city clerk’s decision to deny him public financing for his mayoral campaign. The matter will be assigned to a city hearing officer. The Gonzales campaign will have the burden of providing evidence to demonstrate the Clerk’s decision was improper.

The city hearing officer must conduct a hearing within five days. The hearing officer will have 3 days after the proceeding to issue a ruling. The parties then have the right to appeal the hearing officer ruling in state District Court.


From April 17 to June 19, 2021, publicly financed candidates for Mayor were required to gather both 3,000 nominating petition signatures from registered voters within the City. Candidates for Mayor were also required to collect 3,779 qualifying donations of $5.00 from Albuquerque registered voters in order to qualify for $661,309.25 in public financing. It is the responsibility of the City Clerk to review and verify all petitions signatures and qualifying $5 donations and confirm those included in the total numbers required are in fact registered voters.

On June 18, the Albuquerque City Clerk posted on the City Clerk’s web site the following tabulations for Tim Keller and Manny Gonzales as to verified nominating petition signatures and $5.00 public finance qualifying donations:


Required Petition Signatures: 3,000
Verified Petition Signatures: 4,189
Rejected Petition Signatures: 607
Remaining Petition Signatures Needed: – 0 –
Percentage of Verified Petition Signatures Met: 100%

Required $5.00 Qualifying Contributions: 3,779
Verified $5.00 Qualifying Contributions: 4,057
Rejected $5.00 Qualifying Contributions: 328
Remaining $5.00 Qualifying Contributions Needed: -0-
Percentage of Verified $5.00 Qualifying Contributions: 100%


Required Petition Signatures: 3,000
Verified Petition Signatures: 3,757
Rejected Petition Signatures: 745
Remaining Petition Signatures Needed: – 0 –
Percentage of Verified Petition Signatures Met: 100%

Required $5.00 Qualifying Contributions: 3,779
Verified $5.00 Qualifying Contributions: 4,106
Rejected $5.00 Qualifying Contributions: 573
Remaining $5.00 Qualifying Contributions Needed: -9-
Percentage of Verified $5.00 Qualifying Contributions: 100%
Based on the June 18 posted numbers, both Keller and Gonzales qualified to be on the ballot as well as qualified for public financing.

City Clerk Watson has certified Keller for public financing.


The July 9 letter from the City Clerk to Manny Gonzales makes reference to the 2 ethics complaints filed against Manny Gonzales by the Keller campaign.

The Keller campaign has filed two ethics complaints. They allege widespread fraud and forgery. Gonzales’ campaign is accused of illegally signing the names of more than 140 people, claiming they signed the documents to help with his financing.

The first ethics complaint includes a written statement from a voter who said Gonzales told him he did not have to submit a $5 contribution and that the Gonzales campaign would pay it for him.

The second ethics complaint alleges Gonzales’ campaign forged voter signatures on qualifying public finance receipts. The complaint cites disparities between signatures on $5 contribution receipts and the same voters’ signatures from other places, including on the petition to get Gonzales’ name on the ballot.

The Keller campaign has submitted to the City Clerk 149 examples of alleged forgeries on documents submitted to the City Clerk. The Keller campaign also filed signed statements from upwards of 40 people contacted by a private investigator hired by Keller campaign. Most of those contacted said the signatures on Gonzales’ nominating petition was theirs and half confirmed they had contributed $5 to Gonzales’ public financing effort. Nearly all said signatures on the $5 public finance receipts were not their legitimate signature.

The Gonzales campaign denied all wrongdoing but is accusing the city clerk of trying to “silence the political opposition” and said in a statement:

“What this is really about is that Tim Keller knows that he will lose if voters are able to hear from both campaigns”

The Gonzales campaign said that Gonzales submitted hundreds more $5 contributions than necessary to qualify for public financing, and the ethics complaints involve what it deemed a “small handful of alleged invalid” contributions.

The links to quoted news source material are here:


It was in 2018 that the New Mexico legislature enacted the State Local Election Act that realigned all municipal elections and local election to be held on the November general election ballot. In the past, Albuquerque’s municipal elections were held on the first Tuesday of October and now must be held in November. In 2018, the City Council also passed election reforms empowering the city clerk’s office to promulgate rules and regulations.

On September 21, 2020 and October 2, 2020, City Clerk Ethan Watson and the Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair, respectively, sign off on regulations for the City Clerk to administer the “Open and Ethical Elections Code” (OEEC) for the 2021 municipal elections.

The link to those regulations is here:

It is PART C of the regulations entitled QUALIFYING PERIOD AND QUALIFYING CONTRIBUTIONS that outlines the certification process relating to the $5 qualifying donations for all the candidates.

Paragraph 15 entitled “Certification of Participating Candidates for Public Financing” provides in part as follows:

“The City Clerk shall certify as a Participating Candidate, all Applicant Candidates who meet the requirements of the OEEC and submit an Application for Certification.

Applicant Candidates must submit the Application for Certification by the last day of the Qualifying Period. The City Clerk shall notify all Applicant Candidates whether they have been certified as a Participating Candidate by posting a list of certified Participating Candidates in the Office of the City Clerk and on the City Clerk’s website, and by directly notifying each Applicant Candidate.

Certification as a Participating Candidate does not eliminate or modify candidate qualification requirements of the City Charter or under New Mexico law.

a. In addition to the criteria for certification listed … upon receipt of a final Qualifying Contribution report from an Applicant Candidate, the Clerk shall determine whether the Applicant Candidate has:

i. …

ii. been found to have made a materially false statement in a report or other document submitted to the City Clerk;

iii. …

iv. been found to have submitted any fraudulent Qualifying Contributions or any falsified acknowledgement forms for Qualifying Contributions or Seed Money Contributions, where the Applicant Candidate knew or should have known of the fraudulence or falsification.

b. If the Clerk makes any of the findings above, the Clerk shall not certify the Applicant Candidate as a Participating Candidate.

c. An Applicant Candidate whose certification has been denied may appeal the Clerk’s determination [withing 3 business days.]


Mayor Keller for his part said in a statement the evidence shows Gonzales’ campaign “engaged in intentional and widespread fraud” through forging voter signatures and he added:

“As the former State Auditor, where we investigated and uncovered cases of fraud and misuse of taxpayer dollars, I know a scam when I see it”

Keller campaign manager Neri Holguin said the Gonzales’ campaign did not make the kind of simple mistakes often made in the process and said:

“This is deliberate, this is systemic, this is widespread.”


Both ethics complaints against Gonzales will be heard by the City’s Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices. The first complaint is scheduled for a hearing on July 16. The forgery complaint is scheduled for a hearing on July 22. The Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices that has the authority to levy fines, issue written findings of censure and even disqualify a candidate from running or holding office.


Four years ago when then New Mexico State Auditor Tim Keller ran his successful campaign for Mayor, he was the only candidate out of 8 candidates to qualify for public fiancé. Keller had two separate ethics charges filed against him.

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. Ultimately, Keller was found guilty by a unanimous vote of the City Board of Ethics. Rules and Regulations and he was not penalized before or after the complaint was formally heard.

A link to a related news article is here:

“Ethics board: Keller violated rule with ‘in-kind’ donations, NM Political Report, November 13, 2017”

A second more serious complaint file in 2017 against the Keller campaign was that the Keller Campaign for Mayor committee was coordinating their campaign and expenditures with ABQ Forward Together. Neri Holguin, Keller’s 2021 campaign manager was the chairperson “ABQ Forward Together”, the progressive measured finance committee that was formed specifically to raise money to promote progressive Tim Keller for Mayor in 2017. “ABQ Forward Together” raised over $663,000 for Keller’s 2017 bid for Mayor as Keller qualified for public financing and given $340,000 for his 2017 campaign for Mayor.

In 2021, Neri Olguin is the campaign manager for Tim Keller’s re-elction bid and another measured finance committee has been set up by Keller supporters. On April 26, one measured finance committees was formed to support Mayor Tim Keller’s bid for a second 4 year term identified as “ BUILD BACK ‘BURQUE”. Chairperson for “Build Back ‘Burque” is Michelle Mayorga, a highly experience progressive fund raiser and treasurer is the former Democrat Party Treasurer Robert Lara.


On June 7, it was reported the City Council voted to approve the sale of the historic Rosenwald Building for $360,000 in a “private bid” to build condos. In 2009, the city had purchased the historic 42,000-square-foot building for $1.7 million. The city sold the Rosenwald Building to someone who made a $50,000 donation to Mayor Keller’s charitable foundation and $15,000 in donations to the measured finance committee promoting Keller for a second term. The sale also includes a 14-year lease by the city of 1,100 square feet for an APD police substation.


Given Mayor Tim Keller’s own history of ethical indiscretions, it is simply amazing Keller is so self-righteous and does not know when to simply shut up and says:

“As the former State Auditor, where we investigated and uncovered cases of fraud and misuse of taxpayer dollars, I know a scam when I see it.”

The only finding of fraud, misuse of taxpayer dollars or of a “scam” is that made by candidate Mayor Tim Keller and his campaign manager, both who have been embroiled in questionable and unethical campaign practices in the past.

The City’s Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices needs to have the two hearings on the ethics complaints and ferret out the truth and to examine the actual evidence. Keller and his campaign have the burden of proof and Gonzales must be afforded and opportunity to respond. It’s called due process of law, something State Auditor Keller never understood as he always went after the the headlines instead.


At first blush, it appears that the City Clerk does indeed have authority to deny Gonzales the $661,000 in public finance. The rules and regulations for the election say the city clerk shall determine whether the candidate has “been found to have made a materially false statement in a report … submitted to the City Clerk” and “been found to have submitted any fraudulent Qualifying Contributions or any falsified acknowledgement forms for Qualifying Contributions or Seed Money Contributions.”

The rules are also clear “if the Clerk makes any of the findings … the Clerk shall not certify the Applicant Candidate as a Participating Candidate.” In other words, City Clerk Ethan Watson was doing his job.

It will be very difficult at best for candidate Manny Gonzales to say that he and his campaign made innocent or administrative mistakes when it comes to collection of the $5 donations in that it is mandatory that the candidate and the campaign manager must meet with the city clerk prior to then election process wherein the City Clerk goes over in detail all the rules and regulations. After the meeting, the candidate must also sign a statement they have read the rules and regulations and understand them.

What complicates all of this is that on June 18, City Clerk posted on the city web site it had reviewed and verified that Gonzales submitted more than the required 3,000 signatures and more than the 3,771 qualifying donations. At issue is whether the City Clerk has the authority to deny public financing after the City Clerk found and posted that enough $5 donations were submitted ostensibly without fraud nor forgeries and before there is a decision made by the City Board of Elections and Campaign Practices as to any fraud.


It is more likely than not that this whole fiasco will wind up in State District Court. Political observers have already labeled Manny Gonzales as the de facto Republican candidate for Mayor in part because Republican Political operative Jay Mc Clusky is managing the Gonzales campaign. The Keller campaign has already noted that major donors to the Gonzales measured finance committees and the $5 qualifying donations are predominately Republicans.

The go to attorneys representing many Republican causes in the past have been former Supreme Court Justice Paul Kennedy, former Republican National Committee Member Pat Rogers, former State Senator Mickey Barnett and even Blair Dunn. If any one of these experienced and well-known Republican trial attorneys in fact represent Gonzalez in court, it will be a confirmation of just how much the Republican party has gotten involved with the 2021 Mayor’s race.

If the matter in fact winds up in State District Court, then and only then will the general public actually learn what happened. Until then, Mayor Keller would be wise to simply keep his mouth shut, not comment on the proceeding and let the City Clerk and Board of Ethics do their jobs without his outside interference in the media.

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Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.