On Tuesday, September 13, First Judicial District Court Judge Bryan Biedscheid upheld the Albuquerque City Clerk’s decision to deny public financing to Sheriff Manny Gonzales. During the hearing, Gonzales’ attorneys argued that even without the signatures in question, Gonzales still had enough to qualify for the funding. However, city’s adopted campaign finance rules allow the clerk to deny public financing, no matter how much fraud is found, no matter how minor it is.
Judge Biedscheid in announcing his ruling from the bench said:
“There has been really nothing presented to the court [today] to indicate that the clerk’s initial finding was fraudulent, arbitrary, capricious … that it wasn’t’ supported by substantial evidence.
Essentially Mr. Gonzales has wanted two things throughout this proceeding, which is, one, instantaneous decision-making and, (two), the most elaborate trappings of full criminal prosecution and the like, and you cannot provide both of those,” the judge said. “I think this court has been in a position similar to that which the clerk was in, and that is a position of trying to balance the need for expedited proceedings and the need to make sure everyone has due process and the right to respond.
While much is made and much effort is expended trying to paint Mr. Watson as the instrument of the mayor, that is not legally true. … He is the Albuquerque city clerk that has been vested with authority and duties under Albuquerque ordinances.”
Gonzales’ attorneys argued that even without the signatures in question he still has enough to qualify for the funding. However, the the city election rules are clear and allow the clerk to deny public financing, no matter how much fraud is found.
Sheriff Manny Gonzales during an afternoon press conference called the Judge’s decision a “bad” and “unethical” decision.
GONZALES SEEKS PRIVATE FINANCING
After Judge Biedscheid’s ruling to deny him public finance, Manny Gonzales held a news conference and announced his campaign’s plan to move forward with raising private financing. A defiant Gonzales said he and his supporters will not be “hushed” and had this to say:
“This is something that has never happened to another campaign. And I think that’s going to be the driving force, and the motivation, and the inspiration for us winning this race. … What we want people to know is that not only am I more inspired than ever but I’m also ready to win this race on behalf of the people.”
Gonzales also came out swinging blaming the Democrt Progressives for undermining his campaign all because of his support of President Trump and accepting federal funding last year for a law enforcement initiatives. Gonzales appeared with then Attorney General William Barr at an Albuquerque Press conference and later Gonzales traveled to the White House to attend a Presidential Press conference on a crime initiative where Albuquerque was identified as one of 7 cities that would have federal agents sent to deal with violent crime.
Gonzales now has less than 8 weeks before the November 2 election to get private contributions for his mayoral campaign.
Links to quoted news source materials
ORIGINAL DENIAL BY CITY CLERK
On June 18, City Clerk Ethan Watson posted on the city web site his office had reviewed and verified that Gonzales submitted more than the required 3,000 valid signatures and more than the 3,771 valid qualifying donations. The city clerk rejected 745 petition signatures and rejected 573 Qualifying $5.00 contributions submitted by the Gonzales campaign. Ostensibly with the posting, no forgeries were found in the 3,000 nominating signatures and the 3,771 qualifying donations approved by the city clerk.
The Keller campaign submitted to the City Clerk 149 examples of alleged forgeries on documents submitted to the City Clerk by the Gonzales campaign. 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 qualifying donations were forgeries.
The city’s Office of Inspector General investigated the qualifying $5.00 contribution receipts and found that there were problems with 15% of the 239 randomly selected Gonzales campaign receipts it reviewed. According to the Inspector General, the voters identified and contacted in those instances said either that they signed the receipt but never gave money or that they never signed the receipt or gave $5.
Complicating things for Gonzales is he admitted that signature forgeries were on both nominating petitions and the $5.00 qualifying donations. On July 14, after repeated denials of any wrong doing by the Gonzales campaign, and in a written response to an ethics complaint filed with the Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices, Gonzales’ campaign stated.
“It does appear, upon the Gonzales campaign’s own investigation, that many of the qualifying-contribution (“QC”) receipts…were signed by someone other than the voter.”
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 citing misconduct in the qualifying process and forgery of signatures on $5 qualifying donations. City Clerk Watson wrote Gonzales he could not confirm that Gonzales had complied with the city’s Open and Ethical Election Code and associated regulations.
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.
“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:
… 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.
If the Clerk makes … the finding … above, the Clerk shall not certify the Applicant Candidate as a Participating Candidate.”
The link to the regulations is here:
Gonzales appealed Watson’s denial of public finance and the case was assigned to a city hearing officer. Within a week, a hearing was scheduled and held.
HEARING OFFICER RULING
On Monday July 19, city hearing officer Ripley Harwood issued his written ruling on Manny Gonzales’ appeal of the City Clerks denial of $661,000 in public finance. Harwood found Manny Gonzales had failed to prove that Clerk Ethan Watson had acted inappropriately in denying him $661,000 in public financing. Harwood specifically found that it was Gonzales’ responsibility to keep fraud and forgery in the gathering of the qualifying donations. In his ruling upholding the city clerk, Harwood wrote:
“I endorse the view that it is the duty of candidates to manage and oversee their campaigns in a way that assures that fraud and falsifications do not occur. I would view this as a non-delegable duty even if (Gonzales) had not signed a document acknowledging responsibility for the acts of his key subordinates. … Failing to detect and eliminate a multitude of forged qualifying contribution forms bearing the signatures of his key subordinates constitutes failure to exercise ordinary care in the management of a campaign and meets the ‘knew or should have known’ standard of [the “Open and Ethical Elections Code” regulations.]”
FIRST BIEDSCHEID RULING
Gonzales appealed the city hearing officer’s ruling to state district court. All Second Judicial District Judges disqualified themselves from hearing the case and First Judicial District Court Judge Bryan Biedscheid was assigned the case by the Supreme Court.
On Friday, August 27, Santa Fe District Judge Bryan Biedscheid reversed Albuquerque City Clerk Nathan Watson’s decision denying Sheriff Manuel Gonzales the public financing for his mayoral campaign. The Court ruled that Watson denied Gonzales due process of law.
In making his first ruling in the case, Judge Biedscheid emphasized that Gonzales was denied the opportunity to answer the allegations of fraud against him in the collection of the $5 qualifying donations for public finance. Instead, the City Clerk decided to withhold certification of the funding unilaterally by interpreting and applying election rules and regulations he wrote an issued in September of 2020.
The Judge also ruled the city clerk could ultimately deny Gonzales the public financing, but to do so, the City Clerk will need to determine that Gonzales has been found to have violated regulations and make specific factual findings on those allegations. The judge further ordered the City Clerk must establish and carry out a process by next week giving Gonzales due process. The judge stressed that Gonzales has to be given the opportunity to answer the allegations against him.
NEW MEXICO SUPREME COURT REFUSES TO INTERVENE
On September 1, the Gonzales campaign filed a PETITION FOR WRIT OF SUPERINTENDING CONTROL asking the New Mexico Supreme Court to intervene. On September 8, the New Mexico Supreme Court denied the petition and dismissed the case.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
At the very least it is downright embarrassing and the very worst very pathetic that Sheriff Manny Gonzales would actually say Judge Biedscheid’s decision was “bad” and “unethical” decision and essentially taking absolute no responsibility for the illegal conduct of his campaign. Sheriff Gonzales has 30 years of law enforcement experience. As an elected Sheriff, he is also held to a higher standard and he is not above the law. There is no doubt that Gonzales knows that forging a person’s signature is a 4th degree felony with a basic sentence of 18 months in prison and that fraud to secure $661,000 in financing would be a second degree felony punishable by a basic 18 years in prison, yet Sheriff Gonzales allowed fraud and the forging of signatures in an effort to secure $661,000 in his campaign financing.
Sheriff Gonzales embarrassingly argued that fraud and forgeries go on all the time in political campaigns. That may be true, but it was the Gonzales campaign that got caught. The blunt truth is that Biedscheid ensured that Gonzales was given “due process of law” and an evidentiary hearing and then and only then was the public financing taken away. One thing Gonzales may have learned out of all of the mess he created is that even the guilty are entitled to due process of law, and once due process occurs, a decision is made as to the consequences. If there was any unethical conduct in this whole damn mess it came from the Gonzales campaign.
Gonzales will find it extremely difficult to raise money. The municipal election is scheduled for November 2, giving Gonzales 8 weeks to raise private financing an extremely daunting task. It will require major donors to raise sufficient financing to run a viable campaign. Now that Manny Gonzales has been denied $661,000 in public financing for the 5th time, it is also more likely than not that whatever support he had from conservative Democrats, Trump Republicans and Independents will implode as his reputation in law enforcement has been severely tarnished. Donations to the measured finance campaign supporting and promoting Manny Gonzales began to decline when his trouble with the city clerk emerged and now he has had almost 2 full months of negative press that has sullied his before good reputation.
WILL THERE BE A RUNOFF BETWEEN KELLER AND ARAGON?
Incumbent Mayor Tim Keller no doubt benefits from having his most viable opponent’s public finance funding zeroed out by the courts. Keller has qualified and been given the $661,000 in public finance. Further, the measured finance committee “Build Back Burque”, organized to raise money and to promote Keller has $51,770 on hand to promote Keller or tear down Gonzales or Eddy Aragon for that matter. Sources have confirmed that Mayor Tim Keller is already taping and preparing video campaign ads that will likely be release come October 1.
Der Führer Trump Republican candidate Eddy Aragon will also benefit from Gonzales’ downwards spiral and loss of public finance and support. Aragon is a private finance candidate and the only Republican who qualified for Mayor securing the 3,000 nominating signatures in an impressive two-week period. Further, the Republican Party has now endorsed Aragon and that will likely also bring in donations, but if it will be nearly enough to run an effective campaign is the ultimate question.
At this point in time, 8 weeks before the election, incumbent Mayor Tim Keller is the front runner. With that said, with a low voter turnout, which is expected, Mayor Tim Keller may not secure the necessary 50% of the vote plus one to avoid a runoff. As the Gonzales campaign continues to nose dive and if the Eddy Aragon campaign gains traction, or major event happens that tests Keller’s leadership and he fails, there could be a runoff between Mayor Tim Keller and Eddy Aragon with neither getting 50% of the vote and Gonzales coming in 3rd.
In a runoff, Keller will consolidate the Progressive and Moderate Democratic vote, Aragon will consolidate the Republican and conservative Democrat vote. Under such a scenario, the city could see a repeat of the Democrat Tim Keller and Republican Dan Lewis election 4 years ago with Keller ultimately winning.
Fasten your seat belt and stay tuned!