September 22, 2017

Land developer and Hobbs oil executive behind ads against Keller

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A portion of the proposed sight of the Santolina Master PlanPhoto: Andy Lyman

Albuquerque campaign finance reports released Friday shed some light on negative political ads aimed at New Mexico State Auditor and mayoral candidate Tim Keller.

Shortly after early polls showed Keller leading the mayoral race, television and radio ads popped up accusing Keller of siding with sexual predators.

According to finance reports from Make Albuquerque Safe, Western Albuquerque Land Holdings, LLC and Veteto Properties, LLC were the only two donors and each donated $30,000. Measure finance committees, or MFCs, are the Albuquerque equivalent of political action committees in state or federal races.

WALH is most well known as the company behind the proposed Santolina development, west of Albuquerque. Veteto Properties is owned by Mark Veteto, an oil and gas executive who has given generously to Republicans throughout the state.

Make Albuquerque Safe spent more than $50,000 — about 80 percent of what it raised — on ads against Keller. The MFC spent nearly all the money on television and radio ads, a billboard and a website over a ten-day period.

Jeff Garrett, president of Garrett Development Corporation, the asset manager of Western Albuquerque Land Holdings, wrote a preemptive explanation for the large contribution for the ads against Keller.

In an unpublished op-ed Garrett sent to NM Political Report and other outlets, he accused Keller of a laundry list of things including campaign finance violations, using his current office for political gain, being soft on sex offenders and misleading the public by switching his political status from Republican to Democrat to win his former Senate seat. Garrett also seemed to discount all but three candidates as potential winners. He did not name any specific candidates, but presumably referenced who the three polls showed as in the top three: Brian Colόn, Dan Lewis and Keller.

“Ask yourself is this a ‘Transparent, Accountable and Clean Campaign?’” Garrett asked. “Then decide which one of the other three gentlemen you are going to vote for in this mayor [sic] election.”

Keller’s campaign manager issued a statement following the release of the campaign finance report. In an email, Jessie Hunt said it makes sense that Garrett would actively oppose Keller, who said he would not support the Santolina development.

“Arizona developer Garrett has millions of dollars on the line and will lose big without friends in City Hall,” Hunt wrote. “That’s why he is using offensive images and accusations regarding children and criminals to scare our community into making him money.”

Several hours before Garrett released his statement calling Keller soft on criminals, Keller received an endorsement from the Albuquerque Police Officers Association.

Make Albuquerque Safe filed a report with no activity earlier this month, which raised concerns with a committee in support of Keller.

Neri Holguin runs ABQ Forward Together, a group in support of Keller. Holguin filed an ethics complaint against the anti-Keller group that argued the committee falsified a finance report.

According to the complaint, on September 8, Make Albuquerque Safe reported no spending or raising money, but released the ads against Keller four days later.

Holguin wrote it would have been nearly impossible for Make Albuquerque Safe to pay for ads that ran on September 12, “without incurring contributions and expenditures prior to 5:00 p.m. on September 7, 2017.”

Holguin’s complaint is just the latest in the back-and-forth of ethics complaints in the election.

Bernalillo County Commissioner and mayoral candidate Wayne Johnson filed a complaint against Keller, accusing the state auditor of soliciting and accepting checks as in-kind contributions, even as he accepted public financing, which means he cannot accept private donations.

Days later, former State Director of Rural Development for the United States Department of Agriculture, Terry Brunner filed an ethics complaint with the Bernalillo County ethics board, against Johnson. Brunner said Johnson took political donations from county contractors and those who directly benefited from some of Johnson’s votes.

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