October 25, 2017

Ethics complaint against Keller headed to city hearing officer

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Photo Credit: Joe Gratz cc

The hits keep coming towards one Albuquerque mayoral candidate—and at least two formal complaints against him are coming from a former candidate and his lawyer.

Since the mayoral election ended earlier this month, Dan Lewis has gone after Tim Keller’s voting record in the New Mexico State Senate through T.V. ads and a website, but his campaign and supporters are also under fire for alleged unethical campaign practices. Bernalillo County Commissioner and former mayoral candidate Wayne Johnson filed two ethics complaints against Keller. Johnson’s lawyer in both cases is former Republican National Committeeman Pat Rogers.

One ethics complaint against Keller is already pending with the Albuquerque Board of Ethics concerning in-kind contributions and now, another is headed for a city hearing officer’s jurisdiction.

Now Rogers seems to be doing everything in his power to expedite a hearing with an attempt to subpoena witnesses and gather evidence to try and show that Keller’s campaign and an independent fundraising group illegally coordinated their efforts. Rogers wants to see communications from both Keller’s campaign and the independent fundraising group.

Johnson and Rogers allege Keller’s official campaign and ABQ Forward Together, an independent expenditure group, illegally coordinated when each group paid $15,000 to the same vendor within a day of one another.

“Reporting of coordinated expenditures is not optional,” Rogers wrote in his complaint. “If coordinated expenditures are honestly and accurately reported we expect that numerous additional reporting violations and contribution limit violations will be clearly established.”

But before the question of coordination can be answered, there seems to be disagreement of who is actually supposed to hear the case.

Johnson and Rogers originally sent their complaint to Albuquerque City Clerk Natalie Howard, who in turn forwarded it to the Albuquerque Board of Ethics.

That board’s chairman, Andrew Schultz, then told Rogers the board could not hear the case.

“The Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices cannot accept this document in its present form,” Schultz wrote. “The Document does not comply with the mandatory requirements set forth in the Board’s Rules and Regulations.”

But Rogers continued to press the issue.

On October 4, Rogers sent an email, citing city clerk rules and regulations, and asked for the issue to be forwarded to a city hearing officer. Two weeks later, Howard referred the issue to Albuquerque’s Chief Hearing Officer Stan Harada.

Rogers forwarded NM Political Report an email he sent to Harada with four, unsigned and undated subpoenas for Keller, the two owners of the consulting company working for him and Neri Holguin. Holguin worked on previous Keller campaigns and runs ABQ Forward Together.

In a letter to Harada, Rogers asked the hearing officer to sign and fill in the subpoenas with hearing dates to make sure the matter is heard before the November 14 election.

“Please set a date for the hearing, insert the dates in the subpoenas and let my office know so that I can pick those up and have them timely served,” Rogers wrote.

Molly Schmidt-Nowara, a lawyer for Keller’s campaign, said Rogers is wrong about the proper venue and said the provision he cited applies only to instances in which  a city clerk learns about possible infractions and not when anyone files a complaint with the office.

Schmidt-Nowara also  criticized Rogers for releasing the subpoenas to news media before he sent them to her or Keller.

“This is politically motivated harassment, plain and simple,” she said.

Rogers called Schmidt-Nowara’s claims “ridiculous.”

“What’s simple is [Schmidt-Nowara’s] cheating client had found another way to cheat and another rule that is applicable to everyone except himself and his non-independent MFC run by his former campaign manager,” Rogers said.

The subpoenas are not valid until a city official signs them and they cannot officially be issued by a lawyer. If they are signed and issued by Harada, the subpoenas would seek communications from Keller, Holguin and Keller’s campaign consultants, Alan Packman and Jesse Lane Hunt.

The Albuquerque Board of Ethics does not have subpoena power on its own, but can forward matters on to the courts. In this case, Rogers asked Harada to operate like a court by allowing witnesses and the discovery process. Of course, time is limited as the run-off election is less than three weeks away. Regardless of Rogers’ motivation in the matter, he’s made it no secret that he wants the process sped up.

“For the voters in the City,” Rogers wrote to Harada. “I believe it is critical that this hearing and the coordination issues be addressed before the election on November 14, 2017.”

Harada scheduled a Nov. 7 hearing on the matter and a preliminary meeting with all of the parties on Oct. 30.
Updated: Added comment from Pat Rogers and information about two scheduled meetings with Stan Harada.

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