November 13, 2017

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

Andy Lyman

Tim Keller

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.

The city election code does not define in-kind donations, but the city’s public financing provision defines them as, “A good or service, other than money, having monetary value not to exceed more than 5% of the annual salary for such office at the time of filing the Declaration of Candidacy, but not including an individual who volunteers his own personal service.”

In other elections in-kind donations can include supplies or the use of an event space.

The ethics complaint was filed by a candidate who did not advance to the runoff, Bernalillo County Commissioner Wayne Johnson. Like Lewis, Johnson is a Republican. Keller is a Democrat. The mayoral election is officially nonpartisan.

“Though our opponents have used trumped up terms like dishonest, ‘money laundering’ and ‘cash under the table,’ those assertions were always baseless and the board’s ruling confirmed that today,” Keller said in a statement after the board announced its decision. “That came out loud and clear in today’s ruling which emphatically notes our good faith efforts.”

Lewis went on the attack in a statement following the decision.

“This ruling serves as proof that Tim Keller lied to Albuquerque voters and illegally worked with his political allies to funnel cash to his campaign,” Lewis said. “How can we trust Tim to hold criminals in this city accountable when he thinks he is above the law himself? Sadly, Albuquerque’s catch and release program is paying off for Tim, with the ethics board letting him off the hook despite finding him guilty.”

Keller’s Attorney, Molly Schmidt Nowara, said, “It is very important to note that the Board did not impose any fine or reprimand and fully recognized that Auditor Keller was acting in good faith.”

Keller has two other ethics complaints pending. Lewis also has two ethics pending.

Previously, Johnson and his attorney, former Republican National Committeeman Pat Rogers, sought to take another ethics complaint against Keller to a city hearing officer. The hearing officer sent it back to the ethics board.