August 15, 2016

Last-minute Santolina PAC donations targeted in ethics complaint

A former Bernalillo County commission candidate is accusing a political action committee that advertised against him of not disclosing the bulk of its funding in time to meet state guidelines.

Adrián Pedroza, a community organizer who in June lost a Democratic primary bid for an open county commission seat, filed a campaign ethics complaint against New Mexico for New Mexicans PAC last week.

The complaint, filed with the Secretary of State’s Office, alleges that the PAC violated state law by not properly disclosing nearly $35,000 of its funding until one month after the June 7 primary election.

That money, the vast majority of which came from Western Albuquerque Land Holdings, encompassed more than half of the PAC’s $64,500 in donations during the election cycle.

“It’s really about maintaining the integrity of the election and voters knowing whose contribution went to what and for what reasons,” Pedroza’s campaign manager Neri Holguin said in an interview.

Western Albuquerque Land Holdings is a development company behind the controversial Santolina project, a planned community aiming to serve more than 90,000 residents in the southwest part of Bernalillo County within the next 40 years. Pedroza centered his campaign around opposing Santolina, which is currently seeking approval of 80 subsidies from the county commission.

The PAC sent several mailers critical of Pedroza and paid for mailers and billboards supporting Steven Michael Quezada, who won the primary this year. The PAC also sent mailers supporting a third candidate, Robert Chavez.

Quezada is favored to win the county commission seat, which includes Albuquerque’s South Valley and Southwest Mesa, in the general election this fall.

Donors sent the $35,000 cited in Pedroza’s complaint to New Mexicans for New Mexico PAC on June 2 and June 3—less than one week before the primary election. Pedroza cites a state law that prompts donations larger than $500 within that timeframe to be reported publicly before the election, which occurred on June 7.

“The state’s election law requires that any last minute influx of money be reported daily as the election nears to avoid exactly what the Santolina PAC did – unfairly tilt the election in their favor,” Pedroza wrote in a press release last week.

Some question whether that law, the state Campaign Reporting Act, actually applies to county commission candidates and political action committees.

Ken Ortiz, chief of staff for the Secretary of State’s Office, said Pedroza’s complaint is “under review and at this point no determination has been made on it.”

But he noted that language in the Campaign Reporting Act states applies to state legislative candidates, “non-statewide judicial” candidates and statewide candidates. Local offices like county commissions are left out.

“Because this election is dealing with a county commission seat, it doesn’t apply,” Ortiz said of the Campaign Reporting Act.

Adrian Pedroza

Pedroza campaign

Adrian Pedroza

The Campaign Reporting Act also doesn’t single out political action committees, which have become more dominant in elections since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. That landmark decision opened the door for unlimited corporate and union donations to PACs that don’t directly coordinate with political candidates.

State lawmakers haven’t updated the Campaign Reporting Act since 2009, one year before the Citizens United decision.

Viki Harrison, executive director of good government group Common Cause New Mexico, said the loopholes in the Campaign Reporting Act allow donors to “dump a bunch of money at the last minute in a race” so that “people don’t know who it is until a month later.”

“When this was written, the big players were the [political] parties and the candidates,” Harrison said. “PACs probably weren’t spending on county commission races.”

She cited these loopholes as “another big example of why we have to fix the Campaign Reporting Act.”

Donna Madrid-Taylor, the treasurer listed for New Mexicans for New Mexico PAC, did not return a voicemail left Friday afternoon seeking comment for this story.

Tom Garrity, a spokesman for the Santolina Working Group, which includes members of Western Albuquerque Land Holdings, noted that WALH and New Mexicans for New Mexico PAC are separate entities.

Still, he provided some comments on the complaint.

“It appears that all of the contributions were reported and are ‘transparent’ to the voting public,” Garrity wrote in an email. “This seems to be another unmeritorious attempt to drum up publicity and support.”

Read Pedroza’s complaint below:

8 10 16 v2 Full AP SOS Complaint by New Mexico Political Report on Scribd