March 27, 2017

Citing trouble collecting money, some mayoral candidates abandon public financing

Andy Lyman

Albuquerque City Hall

Albuquerque mayoral candidates seeking public campaign money have less than a week left to qualify.

While the filing deadline may lead to a reduced list of candidates, it’s likely candidates who fail to qualify for public financing will stay in the race and instead fund their campaigns through private donations.

The Albuquerque city clerk’s website listed seven candidates as seeking public financing as of Monday night, but two candidates on that list told NM Political Report they will forgo public money and fund their campaigns from regular donations.

Those who are still trying to qualify for public money will need to submit almost 4,000 contributions of $5 each by Saturday to qualify. The collected contributions will be deposited into a city account and then divided amongst the qualified candidates.

Albuquerque City Clerk Natalie Howard told NM Political Report the amount of funding that each qualified candidate will receive will depend on how much money is in the city fund. But she estimated each qualified candidate will receive around $380,000.

Jacob Shull, one of the candidates who recently shifted away from public financing, met with Howard Monday afternoon and changed his status to private financing.

Shull, who lives in Albuquerque’s northeast heights, said he became somewhat disheartened that his name only recently appeared on the city clerk’s website after a processing error.

“That has hurt my campaign greatly,” Shull said.

Shull said his absence from the list of candidates made some people question whether his solicitation for money to qualify for public financing was legitimate.

Scott Madison, another mayoral candidate who works with the B16 nuclear program at Kirtland Air Force Base, said the requirements of public financing eventually pushed him away from seeking it out. He said his attempts at collecting 3,802 contributions is going “absolutely horrible.”

“There’s no chance of me making it,” Madison said.

Madison said he plans to meet with Howard and officially classify his campaign as privately financed.

Madison said he would like to see a tiered system where candidates receive funding based on their ability to collect the $5 contributions.

“It should not be all or nothing,” he said.

Meanwhile, State Auditor Tim Keller is having an easier time than the lower-profile candidates.

Keller told NM Political Report last Friday that his campaign had collected about 3,000 contributions. He intends to collect well over the required amount. Keller, who has never run for an office that allows campaigns to qualify for public financing, has repeatedly said “how we get to city hall matters” since his campaign kick-off.

“All politicians talk about people-powered campaigns,” Keller said. “[Public financing] forces you to walk the walk.”

Keller said he wants to show that people can run for office without raising hundreds of thousands of dollars from special interest groups.

“This is something important to try,” he said.

Keller is the only currently elected public official running for mayor who is seeking public funds.

Albuquerque City Councilor Dan Lewis and Bernalillo County Commissioner Wayne Johnson, both of whom are running for mayor, are not seeking public financing. Former Bernalillo County Commissioner Deanna Archuleta and former Democratic Party of New Mexico Chairman Brian Colón are also using private money to run for mayor.

Mayoral candidates Augustus “Gus” Pedrotty and Stella Padilla did not respond to email and phone inquiries about their progress in reaching the contribution goal by Saturday. All contributions collected by candidates, whether they qualify for public financing or not, will be submitted to the clerk’s office and pooled into the city’s public financing fund.

Making the switch

Two other candidates stayed quiet about how many contributions they received so far, but did not indicate any plans to switch to private financing.

Rachel Golden, who lives near Taylor Ranch, seemed somewhat defeated when NM Political Report spoke with her last week.

“Honestly, it’s probably not going to work out, I hate asking people for money,” Golden said, declining to tally how many contributions she collected.

Lamont Davis, who lists the City of Albuquerque as his employer on his Facebook page, wouldn’t say how many contributions he’s collected, but said his campaign was “doing up to par.”

“We’re on track for doing the best we can,” Davis said.

The process of publicly financing candidates is relatively new in Albuquerque. In 2005, Albuquerque voters approved a referendum that put a public financing system into place.

Common Cause New Mexico, a group that advocates for more transparent elections, has long been a proponent for publicly financed elections. The group’s Legislative Director Heather Ferguson told NM Political Report that publicly financed campaigns create a clearer picture of each candidate.

“Most importantly you curb the perception that people who are elected are beholden to special interests,” Ferguson said.

The run for mayor gets more and more expensive each cycle, Ferguson said. Mayor Richard Berry, for example, raised almost $1 million in his last campaign for mayor through private financing. Private financing, Ferguson said, is no simple task compared to collecting 4,000 contributions.

“It’s going to be exponentially harder to be a privately financed candidate,” Ferguson said.

Still, three candidates who are seeking private financing began the process seeking public money. Susan Wheeler-Deichsel, Michelle Garcia Holmes and Elan Colello all tried to qualify for public money but are now privately financed candidates.

Colello, founder of a virtual reality company and a current University of New Mexico virtual reality cinema instructor, decided to fund his campaign the more traditional way when he found public financing too difficult. Collelo is less optimistic than Keller that a publicly financed campaign can work.

“Once you get into it you realize you have to have an army to make it work,” Colello said, noting that Keller has a large amount of volunteers.

Colello, who once served as a board member of the Eldorado Community Improvement Association and saw the infamous community infighting over chickens first hand, said the public financing process ultimately prompted him and other candidates changing up their fundraising tactics.

“It’s really tough,” Colello said. “I think maybe there’s a different way to do this.”

While publicly financed candidates are required to file their second financial statement this week, privately financed candidates are not required to file finance reports until April 15.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the next filing date for mayoral candidates was in July. All mayoral candidates are required to file their next finance reports on April 15.