Albuquerque voters are one step closer to voting on a change to the city charter that would increase city funds to some municipal candidates. At a press conference outside city hall on Tuesday, a coalition of local non-profits announced they collected nearly 28,000 petition signatures aimed at getting a public finance voucher program on the general election ballot in November. The proposed program, called Democracy Dollars and more recently dubbed Burque Bucks, would provide each Albuquerque resident a $25 voucher to contribute to the publicly-financed candidate of their choice. Former state senator Dede Feldman is a proponent of the proposal. The Albuquerque Democrat said political races get bogged down in high-spending corporations and political special interest groups.
On New Mexico’s primary election day, in almost triple-digit heat, former state Senator Dede Feldman stood outside an Albuquerque middle school with a signature-filled clipboard in hand. It’s not uncommon to see people gathering signatures outside of polling locations for various political efforts. But Feldman wasn’t there to get anyone elected. The former four-term lawmaker, shaded by a wide brimmed hat, was collecting signatures to get a public campaign finance initiative on the ballot in November for Albuquerque voters. The initiative that Feldman and others hope to get on the ballot would increase money to at least some municipal candidates in Albuquerque who take part in the city’s public financing system.
In Albuquerque’s city hall earlier this week, dozens of people watched lawyers argue before an elections and ethics board over whether a city council candidate intentionally defrauded citizens of about $38,000. City Council candidate Javier Benavidez qualified for public financing after his campaign collected almost 400 qualified contributions of $5 along with signatures from each contributor. Prominent Albuquerque attorney Pat Rogers argued Benavidez purposefully allowed his campaign to forge signatures and falsify contributions and called the campaign’s actions a “very serious issue.”
In his opening statement, he accused Benavidez of “cheating.”
Rogers argued that Benavidez did not correctly collect contributions, and therefore defrauded taxpayers by using public money for his campaign. Rogers is a former Republican National Committeeman and former go-to counsel for Gov. Susana Martinez. Benavidez is the former executive director of the SouthWest Organizing Project, a group that works on racial and economic justice issues.
Potential candidates for Albuquerque City Council who aim to run using public funds are up against their first deadline later today. To qualify for the public financing, the city requires candidates to collect a certain number of $5 contributions, depending on how many people are registered to vote in the district. So far, about 60 percent of city council candidates are seeking public financing. Only one mayoral candidate qualified for public financing. Coming into the final day to collect the qualifying donations, about half of the city council hopefuls attempting to qualify for public financing are on track.
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.
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.
New Mexico State Auditor Tim Keller officially announced his run for Albuquerque mayor Wednesday. Keller issued a statement in the morning saying he would focus on the city’s economy and reforming the Albuquerque Police Department. “Albuquerque is my home – I was born and raised here – and this is where my wife and I are raising our family,” Keller said in a press release. “I’m running for mayor because I believe, together, we can meet these challenges head on and build a safe, inclusive and innovative city that works for all of us.”
If elected mayor, Keller would leave an open spot in the auditor’s office, which would be filled by appointment from Gov. Susana Martinez. Later in the day, Keller told NM Political Report he is not concerned about leaving his current position if elected mayor.
After her first week in office, New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver is ready to get to work revamping the state election code. She said while there are a number of things she wants to focus on, her office might have to get creative financially. “We have a lot to do and we’re not fully funded to do it,” Toulouse Oliver told NM Political Report. Since former secretary Dianna Duran left office last year, there hasn’t been a lot of movement in terms of rule changes or reforms from the secretary’s office. Toulouse Oliver has long said she would work towards improving the state’s campaign finance rules if she were elected.
The Bernalillo County Commission voted down two city initiatives on Thursday afternoon that would have appeared on Albuquerque ballots in the upcoming general election. Commissioners cited lengthy wording and ballot space as reasons to not include two questions previously approved for the ballot by the Albuquerque City Council. See the full story on why the county commission rejected the proposals here. Commission Chairman Art De La Cruz criticized the city council for not sending enough instructions to the county on how the questions would read on the ballot. “This is a city matter first and foremost,” De La Cruz, a Democrat, said.
An issue with the Albuquerque city charter that allowed a mayoral candidate to run for office without making it official could have been addressed months ago. Former Bernalillo County Commissioner Deanna Archuleta announced earlier this year she would run for mayor in 2017, but there was no way to file as an official candidate. Her campaign started fundraising about a year before the city filing process starts. During a city council meeting earlier this year, on May 2, Councilor Don Harris called to withdraw two bills he previously sponsored. One of the proposals included new language in the city charter that would update the definition of a candidate.