On July 15, an ethics complaint was filed against Mayor Tim Keller alleging that the president of the city firefighters’ union fraudulently helped Mayor Tim Keller qualify for public campaign financing. The complaint is still pending. A second complaint based on similar allegations has now been filed.
On Tuesday August 3, the “Retired Law Enforcement Officers” and the “Save Our City” measure finance committees that are supporting Sheriff Manny Gonzales’ bid for mayor filed a 2 count new ethics complaint alleging that Mayor Tim Keller violated Albuquerque’s election laws. The complaint was sing by Jason Katz, Chairman of the Retired Law Enforcement Officers Measure Finance Committee. You can read the entire complaint here:
Count I of the ethics complaint alleges “Misuse of City Employees and City Property in Campaigns”.
Count II of the complaint alleges “Seed Money Violations and Submission of Fraudulent Signatures” and asks Keller’s 661,000 in public finance be revoked.
The two counts of the complaint cite the applicable sections of the Open and Ethical Elections Code. The compliant also cites applicable rules and regulations adopted by the City Clerk Office and signed off by the Chief Administrative Officer of the City, both who are appointed by the Mayor.
Albuquerque private attorney Pat Rogers represents the two measure finance committees that filed the ethics complaint. Pat Rogers is a prominent trial attorney, lobbyist and former Republican National Committeeman and known to be a Republican political operative and attorney for Republican causes and candidates. 4 years ago, Rogers filed ethics complaint against then Democrat State Auditor Tim Keller running for Mayor.
The factual allegations of the complaint concentrate on the actions of Justin Cheney, the President of the Albuquerque Area Firefighters Local 244. According to an affidavit submitted by Firefighter Shawn McDonald, Union President Justin Cheney visited a fire station on June 1 and discussed “contract matters, negotiations and the mayoral election”. The affidavit alleges that firefighters were asked by Fire Union President Cheney to sign Keller’s $5 donation receipts.
When Cheney was asked about making the $5 donations by a firefighter, Cheney allegedly told the firefighters:
“I got that. Don’t worry about it. It’s too hard for me to go around and ask people to sign this and donate the five dollars. I only have three books. It’s a hundred and fifty bucks, and I am going to cover it for all the guys who want to sign it.”
McDonald claims he spoke up and said “You’re not allowed to do that.” According to the affidavit, the room went silent and then the members continued to review the donation cards.
According to the complaint, 24 qualifying contributions of $5 were collected in an illicit manner resulting in multiple prohibitions against campaigning on City property on city work time. The new complaint alleges Keller’s campaign improperly accepted seed funding ranging from $25 to $250 from 6 non-city residents with 4 listing out of state addresses. Seed money donations can only be made by Albuquerque residents.
The ethics complaint alleges in part:
“[Keller used] his position as a public official and a chief executive officer of the City to have City employees solicit contributions and support from other City employees during work time and on City property. A Union President beholden to the mayor for union salary and benefit issues openly acted as Keller’s agent. He promoted Keller as a candidate and urged other City employees to sign the qualifying contributions at city fire stations during work hours. … [Cheney] asked for those contributions in his campaign speech for Keller to the city firefighters and combined that advocacy with reference to the union’s contract with the city and negotiations. Linking the suggested support for Keller to favorable union contract negotiations is classic quid pro quo corruption. Promising the city employees that they would not have to actually pay the $5 contributions allowed Keller to obtain more than $660,000 in public funds.”
The complaint alleges Keller’s reelection campaign illegally accepted “seed money” , which are initial campaign donations allowed to be collected before the qualifying period to collect $5 qualifying donation for public finance. The complaint alleges the Keller campaign collected at least 6 donations from non-city residents in violation of the city’s Open and Ethical Elections Code.
The relief sought by the ethics complaint is to ask the city clerks to revoke Keller’s successful bid to obtain more than $661, 000 in public campaign funding and that the Election Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices Ethics Board remove Keller from office.
CITY CLERK ACCUSED OF IMPROPRIETY
Count II of the complaint alleging “Seed Money Violations and Submission of Fraudulent Signatures” delves into the conduct of Albuquerque City Clerk Ethan Watson who is a Keller appointee. The allegation is made that City Clerk Clerk Nathan Watson did not follow his own published rules and regulations in the processing and validation of Tim Keller’s qualifying contributions. The complaint notes that Watson has taken the position that forged signatures and fraudulent qualifying contributions warrant non-certification for public finance as does a materially false statement in a report submitted to the Clerk. Based on the clerks positions, Tim Keller’s public funding must also be revoked by the City Clerk according to the complaint.
According to the ethics complaint, the City Clerk’s office did not engage in the required signature comparison for the qualifying contributions submitted by Mayor Tim Keller’s re-election campaign. It is alleged that the spreadsheet provided by the City Clerk’s office does not list a signature mismatch as a reason for rejection of even one of Tim Keller’s Qualifying Contributions and there is no evidence that the City Clerk’s office even attempted to compare Keller’s contributor signatures as required by the Clerk’s own rules and regulations. Further, the complaint alleges when compared with the City Clerk’s unprecedented efforts and unique penalty to disqualify Manny Gonzales from public finance, the city clerk has shown bias, prejudice, interest, motive, and conflict of interest to the point the city clerk cannot participate in any proceeding involving Tim Keller and his opponent Manny Gonzales.
KELLER’S CAMPAIGN MANAGER MADE AN ISSUE
The second ethics complaint alleges Keller’s campaign manager, Neri Holguin, acted as his representative for qualifying contributions. Attached to the complaint is an exhibit reflecting she signed and dated blank contribution forms, as well as submitted unsigned contribution forms.
The City Clerk’s 2021 Candidate Guide is specific that a candidate’s representative is responsible to ensure that the receipt books are filled out accurately, including a signature from the contributor. The complaint alleges that no one knows how many qualifying contributions Neri Holguin sign in advance without any knowledge of an actual contribution and an actual signature by an eligible supporter.
The campaign $5 qualifying donations of the Union President are particularly troublesome because Neri Holguin, the Keller campaign manager, also represents the Albuquerque International Firefighters Union #244. A list of Holguin’s clientele is attached to the complaint. According to the complaint, Neri Holguin has filed more ethics complaints than anyone, including the complaint against Keller’s opponent Manny Gonzales, demanding that any fraudulent $5 qualifying contribution or any “false statement or material misrepresentation” in any report or other document is sufficient to stop any public financing pursuant to the 2021 Regulations of the Albuquerque City Clerk for the Open and Ethical Elections Code.
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 related news articles 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 coordinated their campaign and expenditures with ABQ Forward Together. Neri Holguin, Keller’s 2021 campaign manager was the chairperson in 2017 of “ABQ Forward Together”, the progressive measured finance committee formed specifically to raise money to promote Tim Keller for Mayor. “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 the 2017 election, ABQ Forward was found to have violated numerous ethics rules including violations of the in-kind and reporting rules with Neri Holguin being at the center of the controversy.
KELLER CAMPAIGN MANAGER RESPONDS
Neri Holguin, manager of the Keller campaign, called the complaint “theatrics” and denied responsibility for Cheney’s actions said in a written statement:
“If the allegation against Mr. Cheney is true, that he collected Qualifying Contributions at a city workplace during working hours, our campaign was unaware of it and we do not condone it.”
Links to related news articles are here:
TWO KELLER ETHICS COMPLAINTS AGAINST GONZALES
The Keller for Mayor campaign filed two ethics complaints against Manny Gonzales alleging widespread fraud and forgery. Gonzales’ campaign is accused of forging the names of more than 140 registered voters to secure public financing or providing the .$5.00 qualifying donations.
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 his campaign would pay. Gonzales for his part adamantly denies the allegation.
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 nominating petitions to get Gonzales’ name on the ballot.
Both ethics complaints against Gonzales are pending before the Ethics Board.
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 the 2 ethics complaints Mayor Tim Keller’s reelection campaign filed against Gonzales.
APPEAL HEARING ON CLERK’S DENIAL OF PUBLIC FINANCING TO GONZALES
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. On Thursday July 15, the hearing was held. On July 19, the hearing officer issued a ruling affirming the City Clerk’s refusal to certify Gonzales for public finance and Gonzales has appealed the ruling to the District Court.
GONZALES FILES CIVIL LAWSUIT
On Thursday, July 15, Manny Gonzales along with 3 of his supporters filed in state District Court a lawsuit seeking certification as a class action representing all voters who made $5 qualifying contributions to help the sheriff in his application for over $661,000 in taxpayer money.
The civil complaint makes identical arguments and allegations presented during the July 15 administrative appeal hearing over Clerk Ethan Watson’s rejection of Gonzales’ public financing application. The suit contends Manny Gonzales had sufficient voter support to qualify for public financing, even when the forged paperwork is excluded.
The civil complaint alleges in part:
“In any large-scale [qualifying donation] or signature-collection operation, it unfortunately sometimes happens that a small number of overzealous or dumb campaign workers take it upon themselves to cut unacceptable corners by forging names … The Court must intercede to prevent this election from being taken from the voters, in plain view of the voters.”
ANALYSIS AND COMMENTARY
The race to become Albuquerque Mayor has degenerated completely into a back-and-forth exchange of allegations of fraud, forgeries and complaints over campaign finances. At stake is between $661,000 and $1,322,000 in public fiancé and taxpayer money. The back-and-forth exchange between the two candidates for Mayor who are both ethically challenged over campaign finances is pathetic as it gets.
No issues are being discussed by the candidates with less than 90 days before the election. Ultimately, it’s the voter’s confidence that will be destroyed in a public finance system as well as the loss of between $661,000 to $1,322,000 used to trash each other.
Mayor Keller is a former State Auditor that claims he fought “waste, fraud and abuse” yet was found to have violated the ethics campaign rules 4 years ago and signs off on a highly questionable sale of a historical city property to supporters of his re-election campaign. Keller also hires Neri Holguin who has an extensive history of questionable ethics practices herself as is alleged in the second ethics complaint filed against Keller. Holguin was also the campaign manager for former Democratic State Senator Richard Romero who ran against then Mayor Marty Chavez dividing the Democratic vote resulting in the election of Republican Richard Berry defeating both the democrats without any runoff.
Manny Gonzales is a career law enforcement officer who knows forgery is a 4th degree felony with his campaign admitting they have relied on forgeries with the Sheriff proclaiming he was not responsible for his campaign volunteers conduct, yet he designated them with authority to interact with the City Clerk’s office. Gonzales also hires the likes of Republican political operative Jay Mc Clesky who has made a comfortable living trashing his candidates’ Democratic opponents to make up for the incompetence of the Republican candidates he supports.
Mc Clesky was the campaign manager twice for former Republican Mayor Richard Berry and twice for former Republican Governor “She Who Shall Not Be Named”. Mc Clesky was known to exert influence over both the Republican Mayor and Governor he was instrumental in getting elected. McCleskey, who has never been a state employee had an office next to the Republican Governor and thrust himself right in the middle of the “Dirty Downs Deal” controversy and the award of the contract by the State Fair Commission. For several months, a federal grand jury investigated Jay McCleskey regarding expenditures from the Republican Governors campaign, as well as money from her 2011 inauguration committee that went directly to Mc Cleskey. On March 4, 2016, Mc Clesky’s attorney, also a Republican operative, announced that the federal grand jury would not indict Mc Cleskey by saying “I’ve been informed the investigation has been terminated” and the attorney declined to answer any questions.
The election will proceed and there will be only one winner. After the type of campaigns Tim Keller and Manny Gonzales are running against each other with the help of their campaign managers, their reputations will be tarnished and just may end their political careers. This is a good thing considering the lack of ethics by the candidates themselves and how ethically challenge those running their campaigns with the likes of Neri Holguin for Tim Keller and Jay McClusky for Manny Gonzales.
The ultimate losers in all this are the voters with the loss of at least $661,000 in taxpayer money spent on public financing assuming that Tim Keller’s certification of public finance is upheld and that Manny Gonzales is denied public finance by the courts. At this point, voters have to decide between the lesser of two evils or just not voting at all.
COMPLAINT AGAINST KELLER DISMISSED
On August 10, it was reported that Albuquerque City Clerk Ethan Watson has tossed an election ethics complaint against himself and Mayor Tim Keller, saying it fails to meet standards requiring a detailed description of the allegations and how they violated specific rules. The complaint was filed on Aug. 3 by the Retired Law Enforcement Officers political action committee, joined by the Save Our City Measure Finance Committee to file the complaint on. Both committees are supporting Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales’ bid for mayor. The decision can be appeal to the the city’s Board of Ethics.
“The complaint alleges Keller violated rules when pursuing over $600,000 in public campaign financing. It alleges that Keller’s campaign used a city employee for campaign purposes, and illegally accepted “seed money” contributions from six people who listed non-city addresses. It also alleged irregularities in nominating petitions and qualifying contributions submitted by Keller’s campaign. Watson has certified Keller for public financing and already disbursed the money.”
The link to the full quoted news report is here: