The 2023 Municipal Races for City Council was highlighted by the fact that two of the most prominent political consultants in the business, one Democrat and one Republican, squared off against each other, both having an element of contempt for members of their own party that do not fit their own personal agenda within their respective parties. Review of campaign finance reports reveals that both charged essentially their candidate clients 100% of all that they raised or were given in public finance. The blog article is a summation of the what was paid to those consultants in the District 2, 4 and 8 City Council races followed by Analysis and Commentary. It also discusses how Mayor Tim Keller’s longtime political consultant and handler Neri Holguin inserted herself into the December 12 runoff election in the District 6 City Council race between Progressive Democrats Nichole Rogers and Jeff Hoehn with the use of a “politcal hit piece” in an effort to influence the election on behalf of Keller’s chosen candidate.
THE POLITICAL CONSULTANTS
Political Consultant Neri Holguin is the owner and primary principal of Holguin Consulting, Inc.. Neri Holguin has been a political consultant since at least 2007. Holguin Consulting, Inc.’s web page lists campaigns Holguin has successfully managed including Mayor Tim Keller, Albuquerque City Councilors Pat Davis, Isaac Benton, Joaquin Baca, Ray Garduno, Bernalillo County Commissioners Barba Baca, Eric Olivas, Debbie O’mally, Maggie Hart Stebbins and Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen. Numerous State House Representatives and State Senator candidates are also identified. What all of Holguin’s Democratic candidates have in common is that they are decidedly “progressive”, no moderate or conservatives Democrats need apply for her services.
Neri Holguin has an extensive history of being Mayor Tim Keller’s political advisor, confidant and campaign manager. Holguin managed one of Keller’s state senate races. In the 2017 Mayor’s race where Keller was first elected, she headed up the measured finance committee that raised $663,000 to promote Keller when he ran the first time. In 2021, Holguin was the paid campaign manager for Mayor Tim Keller’s successful re election bid against Bernalillo County Sherriff Manny Gonzales and radio talk show host Eddy Aragon.
In the 2023 City Council races, Political Consultant Neri Holguin and her firm Holguin Consulting, Inc. were the politcal consulting firm in District 2 for Councilor Elect Joaquin Baca and in District 8 for Progressive Democrat Abby Foster who ran against and lost to Republican Incumbent Brook Bassan.
The link to Holguin Consulting, Inc.’s web page that provides background on the services it provides and lists clientele is here:
Political Consultant Jay McCleskey is the primary principal in the firm McCleskey Media Strategies. The firm is a full services public relations and marketing firm. The company provides direct mail services for political candidates for office targeting voters. It also produces radio and television advertising. The most notable clients the firm has provided politcal consulting services over the years has been former Governor Susana Martinez, Republican Senate and NM Governor candidate Mark Ronchetti, former Mayor Richard Berry and former Bernalillo County Sherriff Manny Gonzales who ran for Mayor in 2021. McCleskey Media Strategies over the years has provided campaign consulting services to numerous Republican City Council candidates including current Republican City Councilors Dan Lewis, Renee Grout and Brook Bassan and former and long time Republican City Councilor Brad Winter.
In the 2023 City Council races, McCleskey Media Strategies was the politcal consulting firm to Incumbent Republican City Councilor Brook Bassan who successfully ran for re election in City Council District 4 and to Republican City Councilor Candidate Daniel Champaign in District 8 who won the race defeating Democrat Idalia Lechuga Tena. Both Bassan and Champaign qualified for public financing by securing the necessary number of $5.00 qualifying donations.
The link to the firms web site is here:
HOW PUBLIC FINANCE WORKS
Publicly financed candidates are required to solicit qualifying donations of $5.00 to the city and those donations can only come from registered city voters in the City Council District. Qualifying publicly financed candidates for City Council are given a single lump sum of money from the city they can use to run their initial campaign and if they make it into a runoff election, they are given a significantly reduced lump sum amount in public financing for the runoff election.
All public finance campaigns and public finance candidates are required to agree to the spending caps in writing and are prohibited from soliciting and asking for any other cash donations. Public finance candidates are normally at a distinct disadvantage to privately financed candidates when it comes to what can be raised and spent, unless they have a measured finance committee set up to promote their candidacy.
In the 2023 City Council races, candidates were required to collect $5 Qualifying Contributions from 1 percent of the registered voters in the district the candidate wishes to represent. The number of qualifying donations for each district was:
- District 2: 381
- District 4: 403
- District 6: 333
- District 8: 446
In the 2023 City Council races, the amount of public finance given to each of the candidates qualifying and the spending limits imposed were as follows:
- District 2: $40,000.00
- District 4: $40,262.00
- District 6: $40,000.00
- District 8: $44,577.00
EDITOR’S NOTE: The exact amounts varied slightly, either more or less, in each city council district dependent on the final count of registered voters in each of the 4 districts.
DISTRICT 2 (DOWNTOWN, OLD TOWN, PARTS OF THE NORTH VALLEY AND WEST SIDE)
In City Council District 2, Neri Holguin’s firm Holguin Consulting, Inc.’s was the paid political consultant for Progressive Democrat City Councilor Elect Joaquin Baca who prevailed over two other candidates to win outright without a run off. Baca was a public financed candidate and was successful in collecting the required number of $5.00 donations.
Campaign Finance Reports filed with the City Clerk reveal that on August 4, Joaquin Baca was given the sum of $37,865.73 by the City of Albuquerque in public finance to run his campaign. City Councilor elect Joaquin Baca’s Campaign Finance Reports reveal that Holguin Consulting, Inc. was paid a combined total of $35,791,19 (Final Financial Statement, Financial Statements 11,10,9,8,7,6, and 5) for “Consulting and Staffing Services” of the $37,865.73 Baca received in public financing from the city.
The link to the finance reports file by Joaquin Baca with the City Clerk is here:
DISTRICT 4 (NORTHEAST HEIGHTS)
In the City Council District 4, Neri Holguin and her firm Holguin Consulting, Inc. and Jay McCleskey and his firm McCleskey Media Strategies squared off against each other. It was Jay McCleskey’s candidate who won.
In City Council District 4, Neri Holguin’s firm Holguin Consulting, Inc.’s was the paid political consultant for Progressive Democrat Abby Foster who ran against and lost to Republican City Councilor Brook Bassan. Bassan was a publicly finance candidate. Abby Foster, despite being a Progressive Democrat who supposedly embraces public financing of elections, did not seek public finance.
Review of Abby Foster’s Finance Reports filed with the City Clerk reveals that Foster raised at least $63,117.78 in private financing (Final finance report and finance reports 5,8,10 and 11) and paid Holguin Consulting, Inc. at least $64,921.76 for consulting fees, staffing and mail services, more than the $63,117.78 she reportedly raised.
The link to the finance reports file by Abby Foster with the City Clerk is here:
Campaign finance reports for Republican City Council Brook Bassan reflects that Bassan on September 4, 2023 was given by the City of Albuquerque the sum of $39,697.70 in public financing to run her campaign. Campaign finance Report statements 6,8,9,10,11 reflect that Jay McCleskey and McCleskey Media Strategies was paid a combined total of $37,413,08 for campaign consulting and design services out of the $39,697.70 given in public finance.
The link to review the Brook Bassan campaign finance reports is here:
DISTRICT 8 (NORTHEAST HEIGHTS AND FOOTHILLS)
In City Council District 8, Republican City Councilor Elect Daniel Champaign won the race defeating Democrat Idalia Lechuga Tena.
Campaign finance reports for Republican City Councilor Elect Daniel Champaign reflects that on September 4, 2023, the City of Albuquerque paid his campaign the sum of $44,102.75 in public financing to run his campaign. Campaign finance Report statements 5,8,10 and 11 reflect that Jay McCleskey and McCleskey Media Strategies was paid a combined total of $40,212.50 for campaign consulting and design services out of the $44,102.75 in public financing.
The link to review Daniel Champaign’s campaign finance reports is here:
POLITCAL HIT PIECE
A “political hit piece” is the lowest form and one of the most unethical forms of negative campaigning used by bottom feeder political consultants to smear the reputation of an opponent with the use of lies, innuendo and guilt by association. It is often condemned by the public, especially by those who are the target, but used because negative campaigning works and it’s difficult to respond to by a candidate, especially at the end of a contentious campaign.
Political Consultant Neri Holguin inserted herself into the City Council District 6 run off race between Progressive Democrats Nichole Rogers and Jeff Hoehn with a political hit piece against District 6 City Council Candidate Jeff Hoehn. On December 5 a “politcal hit piece” mailer was sent to all District 6 registered voters. The flyer was from Real New Mexico Leadership, the measured finance committee supporting Nichole Rogers and that Neri Holguin solicited $12,000 in donations to produce and distribute.
The politcal hit piece says in part “Jeff Hoehns biggest backer has the kind of record we don’t need in Albuquerque. … With friends like these, we can’t count on Jeff Hoehn to stand with us.” The politcal hit piece then goes on to make the inflammatory accusations of “Sexual harassment reports by multiple woman”, “Discrimination against people of Color trying to buy homes”, “Paid $1.8 Billion jury veredict for inflating the price of home sales commissions.” The politcal hit piece uses a unflattering photo of Jeff Hoehn positioned next to the accusations ostensibly to imply that Hoehn condoned the conduct or was guilty of the same conduct. The very, very fine print that strains they eye to read at the bottom offers as a Fact Checker and identifies the National Association of Realtors who was accused of the conduct.
The political hit piece is a classic ploy used by Neri Holguin. It is referred to as a “guilt by association” political hit piece to disparage and align a political opponent. The measured finance committee, or Political Action Committee, “Help ABQ and National Association of Realtors” is the real subject of the hit piece. Looking at the hit piece at a glance you would think it was Jeff Hoehn who was accused of sexual harassment and discrimination.
Under the City of Albuquerque’s campaign finance laws, a Measure Finance Committee is a political action committee (PAC), person or group that supports or opposes a candidate or ballot measures within the City of Albuquerque. Measure Financed Committees (MFA) are not required to get “permission or authorization” from candidates they support to spend money on their behalf, even if the candidate objects or tries to distance themselves from the MFA.
Pollical operative Neri Holguin knows full well what the truth is, what the law is, and knows when it comes to Measured Finance Committees or Political Action Committees such as “Help ABQ and National Association of Realtors”, candidates have no control over them nor what they do. Holguin insists on promoting false narratives in her donation solicitation email as well as the politcal hit piece that because an endorsement has been given or a donation is made by a measured finance committee, that somehow Jeff Hoehn is affiliated with the PAC or donor, that he is relying on the PAC and he will do the donors bidding once elected which is simply a lie.
LEASONS LEARNED BY HOLGUIN FROM McCLESKEY
Holguin is known for making false and inflammatory allegations and smearing an opposing candidate not considered “progressive enough” to Holguin’s liking. The tactic she uses is “wedge politics” that pits her progressive candidates against any and all “moderate” or “conservative” Democrats, and where the opposition is progressive, she maligns them as not being true progressive. This is the type wedge politics that is dividing the Democratic Party. Holguin has become the go to consultant for up and coming progressive Democratic Candidates for office.
Political Consultant Neri Holguin is emulating the tactics when it comes to hit pieces historically used by Republican Political Consultant Jay McCleskey. Jay McCleskey perfected his campaign skills managing the campaigns of Republican Mayor Richard Berry and Republican Governor Susana Martinez and Republican House and Senate candidates. McCleskey had no problem aggressively maligning Republican candidates who Republican Governor Susana Martinez felt got in her way.
Former Republican Governor Susana Martinez was vicious in going after members of her own party who disagreed with her and she did that with McCleskey working for her. Southern New Mexico rancher and Republican candidate for State Representative Scott Chandler settled a defamation lawsuit he filed claiming political consultant Jay McCleskey and the former Republican Governor’s political action committee circulated untruthful mailers about him during the 2016 campaign. The settlement agreement was reached 3 days after Chandler filed a motion asking a judge to add former Governor Susana Martinez as a defendant in the case. The motion was based on McCleskey’s statements in a deposition that Martinez was critical in setting up the Advance New Mexico Now PAC and that she reviewed and approved its actions.
Chandler’s 2019 lawsuit alleged that McCleskey and Advance New Mexico Now PAC circulated two mailers about Chandler damaging his chances of winning a 2016 Republican primary election for House District 32. Chandler lost the primary by 16 votes. The lawsuit alleged that McCleskey and the PAC mailed fliers during the 2016 primary that asked, “How did a business accused of child abuse and torture AVOID government oversight?”
The fliers referred to a 2013 New Mexico State Police investigation of Chandler’s Tierra Blanca High Country Youth Program in Hillsboro, north of Deming. No criminal charges were ever filed as a result of the investigation. Chandler received legal settlements approaching $1 million from the state related to the investigation. The defamation suit against McCleskey also alleges that McCleskey advised then-Governor Martinez to execute the State Police search of Chandler’s ranch in October 2013.
The link to quoted source materials is here:
ANALYIS AND COMMENTARY
The city of Albuquerque has had public financing for the Office of Mayor and City Council since 2005. When it was first initiated, it was naively envisioned and believed that public financing would be used by the candidates themselves to run their campaigns. It was never meant to create just another cash cow for political consultants to make a killing by grabbing as much taxpayer money as they can from the candidates over a 4 to 6 month period, but that’s what public financing has degenerated into.
Political consultant and Mayor Tim Keller confident Neri Holguin has become the Progressive Democrats version of what Republican political consultant Jay McCluskey is to the conservative Republicans. Over the years, Jay McCleskey was twice the campaign manager for Mayor Richard Berry as well as numerous candidates for city council.
Both Holguin and McClesky have made very lucrative livings off of municipal candidates for public office getting their share of public financing, which is taxpayer money, for their political consulting services. Both engage in what is referred to as “slash and burn tactics” to disparage and malign the opposition. Both represent what is so very wrong with politics in this day and age of Donald Trump.
Voters are disgusted when it comes negative campaigning to smear the opposition. The problem is that. although people condemn negative campaigning, it still works and is hard to overcome.
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.
Public financing has just become another cash cow for political consultants.