Last Friday, Second Judicial District Court Judge Bryan Biedscheid sent back to the city clerk the decision whether to allow $660,000 in public funding to flow to Sheriff Manny Gonzales’ mayoral campaign. This Friday, September 3, the clerk again will weigh in on the issue.
The sheriff is challenging current Democratic mayor Tim Keller for office, as is one Republican. Also on the November 2 ballot are city council races, Albuquerque Public School board races, and bonding for construction of a new stadium.
Judge Biedscheid stated: “[T]he candidate needs to be informed of the allegations against him or her; the candidate needs to receive an adequate explanation of the evidence against him or her, and the candidate needs to have an adequate opportunity to explain his or her position. The court understands none of that was afforded in this matter.”
The judge added: “If the clerk does not find that Sheriff Gonzales has been found to have committed the (violations he is accused of) in a proceeding that afforded him due process or does not elect to set forth a proceeding to provide that due process . . . then the clerk shall certify Sheriff Gonzales to receive public financing.”
The city clerk denied the sheriff public financing after the Keller campaign identified forgeries and fraud, and the sheriff acknowledged that some of the signatures and contributions he submitted to qualify for financing were invalid. The sheriff appealed the clerk’s decision against funding, alleging that the clerk exceeded his authority and suggesting that the clerk was politically motivated. The city’s hearing officer allowed the sheriff a seven-hour hearing to argue his case, but the hearing officer found in the clerk’s favor– a result the sheriff appealed to Judge Biedscheid.
The city’s Inspector General’s office has already investigated and substantiated the claims that Gonzales’ campaign submitted falsified documentation. The Inspector General’s Office sampled all the qualifying contributions Gonzales turned in and determined that 23 individuals reported not signing the form required or making the $5 contribution, and the collection efforts involved 11 different Gonzales campaign representatives. The Inspector General also found 15 instances where people acknowledged signing a receipt but did not pay the required $5 contribution or remember donating the funds.
The sheriff’s campaign acknowledged the forgery and fraud problems, but argued: “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.”
Significantly, the city’s Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices also ruled against the sheriff and unanimously imposed a $500 fine for violating rules in his public financing qualifying bid. However, the Ethics Board’s actions had not occurred before Judge Biedscheid heard the sheriff’s appeal. The fact that the Ethics Board also investigated, found against the sheriff, and issued a fine could be used to demonstrate that the sheriff has had adequate due process.
The City of Albuquerque’s Open and Ethical Election Code’s language states that the clerk “shall not certify” for public funding a candidate who has “been found to” have submitted any fraudulent contributions or falsified acknowledgement forms or contributions where the candidate “knew or should have known of the fraudulence or falsification.” Judge Biedscheid’s decision seemed to focus on the Gonzales campaign’s argument that the phrase “been found to” implies that a party other than the city clerk needed to determine the facts. Whether the clerk can use further documentation of the due process the sheriff has already been afforded or will order yet more procedural consideration will be known by this Friday.