Money from outside NM influencing ABQ mayor election

By: July 21, 2017 12:50 pmViews: 91

ALBUQUERQUE — There is less than three months until the people of Albuquerque vote for mayor. Campaign contribution filing reports indicate candidates are accepting varying donation amounts from around New Mexico, and all across the country.

Both New Mexico and Albuquerque campaign finance laws allow for out of city and out of state contributions. In an article published by NM Political Report, Common Cause New Mexico Executive Director Viki Harrison was quoted in the piece:

“You’ve got to show a clear line of corruption before you can say these people can’t donate,” Harrison said.

There are other examples of recent municipal and statewide elections funded in part by out of state donors, most notably progressive billionaire funder George Soros and a conservative PAC run by the brother of Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM), who is based in east-central Texas.

According to the article, Albuquerque candidate Brian Colón has raised more than $260,000 between April and July. Of that money about 20% of which came from donors in cities outside Albuquerque.

Some of the high dollar donations to Colón’s campaign have direct ties to Albuquerque. Allegiance Realty Corporation, for example, is based in North Carolina and donated more than $5,000 to Colón. But Allegiance owns three large commercial buildings in Albuquerque.

Of the almost $60,000 Colón’s campaign raised from outside Albuquerque, just less than half came from donors outside of New Mexico. One notable  contributor includes  Bryon Paez, who challenged Martin Heinrich in the 2008 Democratic primary for Congress. Heinrich went on to win that primary as well as the general election and, later, a U.S. Senate race. Paez, who previously lived in New Mexico, is currently a deputy director for the U.S. Department of the Navy and donated $5,000 to Colón’s campaign between April and July.

In an interview with NM Political Report, Colón said he considers Paez a close personal friend who just happens to work and live outside New Mexico.

“I think that when you spend your whole life in Albuquerque you establish relationships and there’s a relationship behind every one of those contributions that is personal and they are friends,” Colón said.

New Mexico State Auditor Tim Keller, has received money from outside Albuquerque, in addition to public funds.

Running with public funds prohibits Keller’s campaign  from raising money beyond the $380,000 it received from the city. But outside groups, or what are called “measure finance committees,” can still raise and spend money in support of a candidate or ballot measure. Measure finance committees are similar to some PACs, but the people running them are not supposed to coordinate with respective candidates.

Also named was ABQ Forward Together, a PAC created specifically to “Support Tim Keller’s Bid For mayor of Albuquerque” and has so far raised more than $20,000 from individual donors since its creation in June. The largest is an $8,000 donation from New York-based Paul Rudd. The report claims about half the donors the group received came from donors who claimed an address outside Albuquerque, like Rudd, or Alan Webber from Santa Fe, himeself a former Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

The outside contributions came from specific donors who personally know Keller and agree with his politically progressive vision for Albuquerque, the ABQ Forward Together chairperson Neri Holguin told the New Mexico Political Report:

“I think that people know Tim,” Holguin said. “He has a record as a state senator.”

Holguin, who ran Keller’s 2008 campaign for state senate, added that as the largest city in the state, Albuquerque serves as a sort of flagship city for New Mexico.

“It doesn’t help our state if Albuquerque is in the news for bad things,” Holguin said, citing Keller’s progressive vision for the city.

About $40,000 was donated by Rudd to various campaigns and groups around New Mexico in the recent past.

Contribution records show that Rudd has a history of donating to progressive PACs and candidates around the country including New Mexico. Holguin said Rudd is also originally from New Mexico. Reporters were unable to contact Rudd, but can confirm he owns a New York tech company called Adaptive Analytics. From the original report:

Keller’s campaign management said they have not coordinated with ABQ Forward Together, but Keller himself did weigh-in on why he thinks so many outside of the city are interested in the race. In an email to NM Political Report, Keller said Albuquerque is the state’s “economic engine.”

“There’s a lot at stake in this election and we’re seeing increased interest all around,” Keller wrote. “We’re also at a pivotal moment for our city and state and this election will set the tone for decades about whether or not we challenge and break the status quo with big ideas that truly move us forward.”

Colón told reporters contributions from those outside Albuquerque are anything other than the result of friendships:

“I think the number of contributors shows it’s not a bigger issue than simply saying New Mexico is a small state and relationships matter,” Colón said.

Harrison said the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Citizens United v. FEC did not directly address friends and relatives donating from a different state, but that “it made other courts look at it that way.”

“After Citizens United, people can do with their money what they want as long as they’re within the [contribution] limits.” Harrison said.

There are four more candidates running for mayor, all reporting contributions from outside of Albuquerque, but very low percentage of the large contributions came from outside the state of New Mexico. The city charter states contributors are required to list the address of their respective employer when they contribute to a city campaign.

Other mayoral candidates list multiple contributors from adjacent cities in the Albuquerque metro area like Tijeras, Rio Rancho and Corrales. Candidates also listed contributions from other states, but most of those donations are relatively small dollar amounts.

Overall, the money has been pouring into this mayoral race at an unprecedented rate.

Altogether, seven of the eight candidates who are not using public money have already raised  $1.5 million. On top of that, Ricardo Chaves personally loaned his campaign more than $500,000 dollars and Keller received $380,000 through public financing. All told, candidates have raised almost $2.5 million, for a mayoral election that’s still less than three months away.

At this rate, the Albuquerque mayor race may reach $2 or $3 million this year.

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