House overhauls lottery bill to ensure more funds for students

The state House of Representatives on Saturday approved a bill seeking to create bigger prizes in the state lottery, but not before heavily amending the measure to protect the lottery scholarship fund for college students. House Bill 147, sponsored by Rep. Jim Smith, R-Sandia Park, cleared the House on a vote of 37-30. It eliminates a requirement that the lottery turn over 30 percent of its gross revenue for scholarships. The lottery staff and lobbyists for lottery vendors said scrapping the funding requirement actually would one day lead to significantly more money for scholarships. Democrats and Republicans alike were skeptical of that claim.

Lottery scholarship bill deadlocks in committee

The state lottery’s luck may have run out at the Legislature. A House committee on Wednesday tabled a bill that would end a requirement that the New Mexico Lottery turn over 30 percent of the gross revenue of ticket sales for the state’s college scholarship program. The lottery argues that scrapping the revenue requirement would allow it to boost prizes, in turn raising ticket sales and providing even more money for scholarships, which helped defray expenses for some 26,000 students last year. Critics contend the bill would amount to a blank check for the state lottery and mean less money for students. The 8-8 vote by the Appropriations and Finance Committee did not kill House Bill 147.

Ethics board: Keller violated rule with ‘in-kind’ donations

The City of Albuquerque Board of Ethics Rules & Regulations unanimously found that Tim Keller violated the city’s elections and ethics codes, but it did not impose any penalty. The board decided the case involving in-kind donations Monday, the day before voters cast ballots in the runoff election. Keller faces Dan Lewis after the two received the most votes in the first round of voting last month. Keller’s campaign received public financing, but his campaign accepted money as “in-kind” donations. Candidates who qualify for public financing are not allowed to accept private donations.

Campaign complaint sent back to ethics board

An ethics complaint against Albuquerque mayoral candidate Tim Keller is headed back to a city ethics board after initial disagreement over the correct jurisdiction. Filed by former mayoral candidate and current Bernalillo County Commissioner Wayne Johnson, the complaint alleges illegal coordination between Keller’s campaign and an independent fundraising group. Chief Hearing Officer Stanley Harada ruled that the issue should go to the city’s Board of Ethics, writing that under the city charter, he does not have jurisdiction in the matter. Johnson’s attorney, former Republican National Committeeman Pat Rogers, filed the complaint and insisted it should go to a city hearing officer and not the city’s Board of Ethics. From the start, Keller’s lawyer Molly Schmidt-Nowara said a hearing officer was not the correct jurisdiction.

Ethics complaint against Keller headed to city hearing officer

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.

Post-election, campaign finance concerns follow Keller

Albuquerque’s mayoral runoff election is a month away and so far the two campaigns have stayed relatively quiet. But an upcoming ethics hearing and the city’s public finance rules could make the runoff election more complicated or at least open the door for more attack ads, particularly against State Auditor Tim Keller. Originally scheduled for Oct. 12, an ethics hearing for a complaint against Keller was moved to only a few days before the Nov. 14 runoff election—and well after early voting starts.

Healthy Workforce Ordinance fails in razor-thin vote

If voters needed a reason to bring their reading glasses and a snack to the polls on Tuesday, it was probably because of the 1,900-word Healthy Workforce Ordinance, which filled the back side of the ballot. As precincts reported results throughout the night, the results flip-flopped, but in the end, the initiative failed 50.39 percent to 49.61 percent. That was a margin of 718 votes out of over 91,000 cast. In short, the ordinance said employers in the City of Albuquerque would need to provide employees with paid sick time for their own or a family member’s illness, injury or medical care or for absences from work related to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. Attorney Pat Rogers, who represented the business coalition that sued to void the initiative, called Tuesday’s vote a “testament to the Albuquerque voter.”

“Voters actually read the ordinance and determined it was a very bad proposal for employees in particular, as well as employers,” he said.

City council candidate ordered to pay almost $2K for campaign violations

The City of Albuquerque Board of Ethics Monday afternoon voted to impose a $1,900 fine on an Albuquerque City Council Candidate for not following the city’s election code. The hearing was the latest related to a complaint by former mayoral candidate Stella Padilla and private investigator Carlos McMahon against city council candidate Javier Benavidez. Padilla and McMahon alleged that Benavidez’s campaign fraudulently obtained about $38,000 of public campaign funds by using some of their own money instead of collecting $5 from each petition signer. Padilla and McMahon’s lawyer, prominent Republican Pat Rogers, wrote in his closing argument that Benavidez should return the taxpayer-funded money his campaign received, be fined at least $21,000 and be removed from the City Council if he wins the race. Rogers also said the issue should be referred to the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office for possible criminal prosecution.

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.

Paid sick leave advocates ask judge to reconsider decision

Supporters of a proposed Albuquerque sick leave initiative asked a district court judge Wednesday to reconsider his decision to require the full text of the proposal on election ballots next year. The city election is still a year away, but the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty filed the motion asking Bernalillo County District Judge Alan Malott to reconsider a previous decision that required the full text of the proposal appear on the ballot and instead allow the sick leave initiative to appear as a summary on the ballot next October during the municipal elections. Lawyers with the Center on Law and Poverty said the full text would likely not fit on a one-page ballot and could cause inaccurate ballot counts, rejected ballots or a complete absence of the initiative on next year’s ballot. They also disputed Malott’s interpretation of the city charter. “The best way to mitigate these risks is an order that the Charter permits a summary to appear on the 2017 municipal election ballot, and that the full text may be provided to voters in a separate document,” wrote the Center’s lawyers in the motion.