Ethics hearing highlights ambiguity in public finance rules

In Albuquerque’s city hall earlier this week, dozens of people watched lawyers argue before an elections and ethics board over whether a city council candidate intentionally defrauded citizens of about $38,000. City Council candidate Javier Benavidez qualified for public financing after his campaign collected almost 400 qualified contributions of $5 along with signatures from each contributor. Prominent Albuquerque attorney Pat Rogers argued Benavidez purposefully allowed his campaign to forge signatures and falsify contributions and called the campaign’s actions a “very serious issue.”

In his opening statement, he accused Benavidez of “cheating.”

Rogers argued that Benavidez did not correctly collect contributions, and therefore defrauded taxpayers by using public money for his campaign. Rogers is a former Republican National Committeeman and former go-to counsel for Gov. Susana Martinez. Benavidez is the former executive director of the SouthWest Organizing Project, a group that works on racial and economic justice issues.

Big money dwarfs public finance in Albuquerque mayor’s race

Ricardo Chaves says he won’t accept any outside cash to help in his quest to become mayor of Albuquerque. “I won’t take any campaign money, because I don’t want to be beholden,” Chaves said in a recent interview. “I want to represent all the people not just the special interests.”

So the 81-year-old retired Albuquerque businessman who founded Parking Company of America is relying on a different pile of money to push his mayoral candidacy over the line: his own. To date, Chaves has pumped more than $500,000 into his campaign war chest, mostly through loans. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission.

Campaign finance reporting changes prove controversial

On the surface, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver’s proposed changes to campaign finance reporting rules appear to be a wonky topic. But to some outspoken opponents it’s a free speech violation. Burly Cain, the New Mexico state director of Americans for Prosperity, compared the proposed changes to forcing an 80-year-old woman to “wear an armband to say what she believes on her arm.”

Officials with the secretary of state’s office say they are simply attempting to update outdated sections of the state’s Campaign Reporting Act that are no longer legally valid after high-profile court decisions. This includes the state law definition of “political committee,” which is broadly defined as two or more people who are “selected, appointed, chosen, associated, organized or operated primarily” for influencing an election or political convention. This definition was found to be “unconstitutionally broad” in New Mexico Youth Organized v. Herrera, a 2009 court case, according to Secretary of State Chief Information Officer Kari Fresquez.

ABQ mayoral money coming from beyond NM

Out-of-state money in local elections is nothing new. Statewide and legislative races in New Mexico are often funded, to varying degrees, by individuals or Political Action Committees from other parts of the country. With less than three months before the mayoral race, candidates are filing their campaign contribution reports with varying donation amounts from around New Mexico—and in some cases all around the country. Both New Mexico and Albuquerque campaign finance laws allow for out of city and out of state contributions. Common Cause New Mexico Executive Director Viki Harrison said members of the public may not like the idea of out-of-state money funding a mayoral campaign, but that ultimately without a clear instance of quid pro quo it’s allowed.

Some ABQ city council hopefuls dismiss public financing

Nine candidates have qualified for the Albuquerque mayor ballot and  more city races are gearing up, too. While many of the mayoral candidates unsuccessfully attempted to qualify for public financing, a majority of Albuquerque City Council candidates are now collecting $5 contributions with the hope of the same goal. Still, four council candidates have opted to instead raise money through private donations. At least two of them told NM Political Report they don’t think the public should pay for elections. Paul Ryan McKenney, an active member of the state’s Libertarian Party, said he sees public financing as tax dollars misused.

City contractors give to ABQ mayoral candidates

Employees of companies that do business with the city, and a few of those companies themselves, donated more than $74,000 to Albuquerque mayoral candidates through the end of March, an analysis by New Mexico In Depth found. That’s more than twice the amount the city found in an official report submitted last week, which was required within 48 hours of the latest campaign finance deadline. In 2007, Albuquerque voters approved a ban on corporate contributions and contributions from city contractors. But a 2013 lawsuit overturned those bans. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission.

Martinez vetoes bill to close lobbyist loophole

Gov. Susana Martinez, who has touted herself as a champion of transparency, on Thursday vetoed legislation that would have required lobbyists to return to disclosing more information publicly about money they spend on public officials. The Legislature passed a law that weakened those rules last year but sought to correct what some lawmakers called an inadvertent mistake during this year’s 60-day session, which ended last month. This post originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. Martinez’s veto means lobbyists won’t need to report expenses on lawmakers and other public officials under $100, as they did prior to the current law taking effect. Martinez explained her reasoning in a one-page veto message.

Winners and losers of the 2017 session

One of the biggest winners in the just concluded 60-day session of the New Mexico Legislature was a man who never set foot in the Roundhouse and, in fact, never came close to crossing the state border. His name is Donald J. Trump, the president of the United States. Republican Trump lost New Mexico in November by 8 percentage points, and Democrats control both the state Senate and House of Representatives. Even so, several pieces of legislation aimed at Trump failed to get traction in the Legislature. Senate Bill 118, sponsored by Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, would have required presidential candidates to disclose five years of personal income taxes to get on the general election ballot in New Mexico.

Proposal for state ethics commission advances to full Senate

The Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment to establish a state ethics commission, a proposal that has died in the New Mexico Legislature year after year. The measure now moves to the full Senate, where its advocates hope it receives a vote before the legislative session ends at noon Saturday. Note: This story has been updated throughout with more information on the proposed ethics commission. Members of the Rules Committee voted 9-1 to advance House Joint Resolution 8, sponsored by Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque. The House last week voted 66-0 for the measure.

House OKs campaign finance reform

After six years of trying to require “dark money” organizations and other independent-expenditure groups to report their political backers, supporters of campaign-finance reform got their bill through the state House of Representatives on Monday night. The House on Monday passed Senate Bill 96, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, and Rep. Jim Smith, D-Sandia Park. The bipartisan vote was 41 to 24. Six Republicans joined with the 35 Democrats to vote for the bill. The Senate had already passed the bill, but it will have to go back there for consideration of House amendments.