May 11, 2017

Some ABQ city council hopefuls dismiss public financing

Albuquerque city councilors in May, 2015.

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.

“In short I think that tax dollars should be used to help people here in the city and not to run political campaigns,” McKenney, a candidate for city council in District 9, said.

McKenney said he knows a few small business owners, but is  mostly using social media and walking his district, in the far southeast area of the city, to solicit small individual donations.

“I don’t have any connections with the big guys,” he said.

McKenney plans to  run against incumbent City Councilor Don Harris and candidate Byron Powdrell, a radio station executive.

District 5 candidate Robert Aragon also said the city council candidates, in particular, should not rely on public money.

“It’s real easy,” Aragon said. “I’m one of these folks that just doesn’t believe in it.”

Aragon is running for current City Councilor and mayoral candidate Dan Lewis’ Westside seat,

Aragon does favor public financing for races for judicial positions, he said, because they have “too many possibilities for potential abuse.”

Gov. Susana Martinez appointed Aragon to the New Mexico Board of Finance, where he has served since 2011

He’s also  married to Albuquerque Public Schools board member Peggy Muller-Aragón, who received $15,000 from Martinez’s Public Action Committee during her last campaign. Aragon has served on numerous other boards and spent six years in the New Mexico House of Representatives.

Advocates for public financing of campaigns disagree that it is a misuse of taxpayer dollars.

Common Cause New Mexico Legislative Director Heather Ferguson said while the funds for public financing do come from taxpayers, they also ensures campaigns will focus on issues important to respective districts and not special interests.

“What it is is funding peoples’ campaigns to focus on what’s truly important to their constituents,” Ferguson said.

She said she and her group acknowledge candidates do what they think is best for their campaigns, but that about 70 percent of Albuquerque voters approved a public financing provision in the city election code.

“For [voters], that actually was a priority,” Ferguson said.

Two other candidates, both running in District 5, are also privately financing their campaigns. Jose Orozco and Robert Watson did not respond to emails or phone calls from NM Political Report.

District 5 currently six people running—the most of any district.

Only four of the 17 total candidates in the five council races are trying to qualify for public financing.

A large number of mayoral candidates began their campaigns seeking public financing, but only one, State Auditor Tim Keller, successfully collected enough $5 contributions to qualify. Many of the mayoral candidates said collecting almost 4,000 contributions proved too difficult without a large number of campaign staffers.

City Council candidates have an easier road to qualify for public financing and only need to collect a fraction of the donations when compared to mayoral candidates. City council candidates in District 7 have to collect 464 individual donations, the most in all three districts.

Council hopefuls have until June 28 to collect 500 petition signatures from voter registered in each respective district. Those seeking public financing must turn in the required amount of $5 contributions by May 31 to qualify for the funding.