Friday is Decisive for Mayoral Race Funding

Friday, August 27, Second Judicial District Court judge Bryan Biedscheid’s decision will be announced on whether to permit public financing for Sheriff Manny Gonzales’ mayoral campaign. The sheriff is challenging current Democratic mayor Tim Keller, as is one Republican.  

The decision was triggered by the appeal of Albuquerque city clerk Ethan Watson’s denial of public funding for Gonzales. Watson denied funding based on identified and admitted forgeries in the collection of signatures, based on the City of Albuquerque’s Open and Ethical Election Code’s language, which states that the clerk “shall not certify” for public funding a candidate when the candidate has been found to have submitted fraudulent contributions or falsified acknowledgement forms or contributions where the candidate “knew or should have known of the fraudulence or falsification.”

The sheriff and his campaign have attempted to normalize the fraud and forgeries while admitting to them, issuing a statement that said: “The fact remains that the Gonzales campaign submitted more than enough valid contributions to qualify for public financing and denying him that funding disenfranchises those voters who made more than 4,000 valid contributions on his behalf.”  By extension of that argument, any number of forged signatures or fraudulent contributions above the threshold for legitimate signatures and contributions would trigger no consequences.

In addition, the Gonzales campaign characterized the clerk’s decision as politically motivated: “We are not surprised that the hearing officer handpicked by Keller’s city clerk rubber-stamped the decision made by the city clerk.”  

The statement erroneously implies that the clerk’s appointment is a political plum, though it requires city council consent. It also falsely implies that the clerk could face arbitrary removal for deciding against the mayor when, in fact, the clerk’s term coincides and terminates with the mayor’s. Furthermore, the clerk can be terminated early only for cause, as determined by the Director of the Office of Internal Audit and Investigations.

In the decision on appeal, hearing officer Ripley Harwood rejected the sheriff’s argument that fraud and forgery in campaigns are commonplace. Instead, he wrote: “It should not happen in any campaign, and I reject the corollary notion that some level of fraud and falsification is tolerable or OK. In my view, the Clerk has the right and the duty to deny participating candidate certification whenever fraud or falsification is discovered, without the need to first quantify it.”

Judge Biedscheid has stated that he will base his decision on a reading of the city ordinance rather than any political determination, stating; “I am mindful of my role and that it is limited. I am not out to rewrite regulations or election codes, but I am here to see they are properly complied with.”