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Mayoral donations may violate city ban

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Mayor Richard Berry’s re-election campaign has accepted about $17,000 in donations from people who own or work as executives for companies that have city contracts, according to a Journal review of online records.

Pete Dinelli, also a candidate in the race, received about $200 in such donations, $100 each from two partners in the Modrall Sperling law firm, which has a city contract.

A voter-approved provision in the City Charter bans campaign contributions from business entities and city contractors, though it isn’t clear whether the contributions accepted by mayoral candidates this year violate that rule.

The city’s Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices could decide the matter if a complaint is filed.

This year’s race is the first time the ban has come into play in a mayoral campaign. Voters approved it in 2007, and all three candidates in the 2009 mayor’s race participated in public financing, avoiding private donations for the most part.

The charter prohibition on “business entities” applies to companies or an agent making a contribution on a company’s behalf. The ban on contractors applies to “any person” who, when the contribution is made, “is in a contractual relationship with the city to provide goods or services to the city.”

The remedy for an “unknowing violation” is the return of the contribution, according to the charter. No penalty for a deliberate violation is mentioned, but the ethics board generally has power to issue public reprimands and impose fines.

Berry and Dinelli say they are in compliance.

“Mayor Berry’s campaign is committed to following both the letter and the spirit of the city’s finance laws and we believe we are in full compliance,” campaign spokesman Tito Madrid said in a written statement. “Our compliance team is constantly in contact with the clerk’s office to ensure our campaign is in-line with their current guidelines and interpretations and that will continue through election day.”

Dinelli campaign spokesman Alan Packman said the clerk’s office already reviewed Dinelli’s contributor list and didn’t flag the Modrall attorneys as city vendors – and the campaign believes the donations are allowed under the charter.

Assistant City Attorney Greg Wheeler said the charter makes it clear donations are prohibited from someone who’s listed under his or her own name as a city vendor. But it’s less clear if the person simply works for a company that has a city contract, he said. How much control the person has over the company could be a factor, he said.

The ethics board would determine the contribution’s propriety “on a case-by-case basis,” Wheeler said.

Dinelli qualified for about $360,000 in public financing, meaning he’s done little private fundraising. Berry, meanwhile, is funding his campaign entirely through private donations, and he’s raised about $253,000 so far.

Berry’s contributors include the owners of TLC Plumbing, Black Mesa Coffee, Dekker-Perich-Sabatini and Don Chalmers Automotive – all companies listed on the city transparency website as holding city contracts. Berry also received donations from executives at PNM Resources, Summit Electric Supply and REDW – companies that either have contracts or are listed as city vendors.

“None of these people have a direct contractual relationship with the city,” said Paul Kienzle, an attorney for the Berry campaign. “As individuals they have a fundamental First Amendment right to make contributions, and there’s nothing in the City Charter that prohibits it.”

Dinelli highlighted the ban on contractor contributions in a statement released Thursday. “It’s a disservice to the people of Albuquerque that the mayor has given up on the accountable and transparent public financing system. … Voters deserve to know whether or not the Mayor has taken illegal contributions and if so, he needs to return them immediately.”
Ethics board will check contributionsBERRYDINELLISee QUESTIONS on PAGE C2Questions raised on mayor race contributionsfrom PAGE C1″As individuals they have a fundamental First Amendment right to make contributions, and there’s nothing in the City Charter that prohibits it.”<quote_attribution>ATTORNEY PAUL KIENZLE

— This article appeared on page C01 of the Albuquerque Journal

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