November 1, 2017

Campaign complaint sent back to ethics board

Andy Lyman

Albuquerque City Hall

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. She praised the decision by Harada on Tuesday evening.

“Hearing Officer Harada made the right decision today and stopped political operatives from trying to circumvent the rules in an effort to do or say anything to tear down Tim Keller,” Schmidt-Nowara said. Rogers said he would refile the complaint with the Board of Ethics Wednesday.

If Harada had agreed to hear the case, Rogers may have been able to subpoena emails from Keller, his campaign managers and the independent expenditure group raising money in support of Keller. The Board of Ethics cannot issue subpoenas, but could request a district court judge to issue them.

With little evidence the two groups worked together, besides campaign reports showing the two groups paying the same vendor a day apart, Rogers called on Keller’s campaign to voluntarily release private emails.

“Show the taxpayers what you and your not so independent, ‘independent’ committee got for $30,000 in polling services,” Rogers said to NM Political Report.

This complaint is among about half a dozen Rogers has had a hand in during this year’s municipal elections. In addition to representing a handful of complainants like Johnson’s, Rogers is also defending another independent expenditure group opposing Keller for mayor. That group, Make Albuquerque Safe, is primarily funded by the financial group behind the controversial Santolina land development.

Political strategist Neri Holguin, who Rogers accused of coordinating with Keller’s campaign, filed her own complaints against Make Albuquerque Safe for allegedly not reporting contributions and expenditures accurately.

Rogers has also represented or currently is representing a handful of other complainants aimed at progressive municipal candidates, mostly concerning public financing rules.

The Board of Ethics is unlikely to resolve pending complaints before the Nov. 14 election as city rules require two weeks public notice.

Were the board to rule against Keller, city election and ethics rules grant the board the authority to impose a monetary fee.

Rogers filed another complaint earlier this month, alleging Keller’s campaign did not report legal fees for previous complaints. It is unlikely that complaint will be settled before the election.