Santa Fe’s Ethics and Campaign Review Board on Tuesday dismissed a complaint alleging that mayoral candidate Javier Gonzales and union leader Jon Hendry are working in concert, along with labor-backed groups, in violation of the city’s public campaign financing program.
While candidates themselves are limited to spending $60,000 in taxpayer dollars they’ve been provided, three outside groups have already spent a little less than $53,000 on Gonzales’ behalf, according to campaign finance reports filed Tuesday.
Justin Miller, ethics board chairman, said the board found no improper coordination between Gonzales and two political action committees and a national union group which are spending to help get him elected and “that the complaint fails to allege facts” backing its claims.
Board member Kristina Martinez did say she was concerned by “discrepancies” in statements by Gonzales and Hendry in affidavits “regarding whether or not they actually spoke to each other.” She didn’t cite an example.
The board voted 3-0 to dismiss the complaint, which was filed by Fred Rowe, an attorney who formerly chaired the ECRB and is supporting Patti Bushee for mayor. Councilor Bill Dimas is the third candidate in the March 4 election.
Rowe declined comment after the board ruled. Gonzales did not return phone messages.
Rowe accused Gonzales and the outside groups of gaming Santa Fe’s public financing code intended to “keep outside money from corrupting mayor elections.” Rowe alleged that Hendry served as an intermediary for concerted actions between two PACs and Working America, affiliated with the AFL-CIO.
“I’m not surprised,” Carter Bundy, political action representative for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO, of the ethics board’s decision. “These were baseless accusations from the start.”
Keegan King of Albuquerque, a political consultant who is treasurer of the Santa Fe Working Families PAC that reported spending $30,000 in AFSCME dollars to support Gonzales, called the complaint “a publicity stunt” and “yet another attempt to detract from the real issues.”
Tuesday’s campaign finance reports show that about $13,000 of Working Families’ expenditures have come in the past two weeks, all of it to a Salem, Ore., company for direct mail campaign materials.
The Working America AFL-CIO affiliate has raised and spent $20,065 to support Gonzales, with all of its funding from Working America’s Washington, D.C., office, its latest report says.
The $14,233 spent since Feb. 7 consists of about 130 small payments to campaign workers, all but one of them from Albuquerque; for rented vans from Albuquerque; or for gasoline.
Also, the pro-Gonzales Progressive Santa Fe PAC reported it has spent $2,700 in the campaign.
In his own campaign report, Gonzales reported expenditures of $42,723 so far from his pot of $60,000 in public funding, including $22,978 to MAP Political Communications in Austin, Texas for mailers.
Bushee has spent $37,010 from her $60,000, including about $8,900 to hmc Enterprises in Rowe for consulting, $5,600 to an Albuquerque company for mailers and $4,977 to a Santa Fe company for web design.
Dimas reported spending $47,664 in public funds, including $1,534 recently for a mailer targeting Republican voters.
Dimas, Bushee and the Common Cause good government group have all condemned the outside spending for Gonzales, saying it defeats the purpose of public financing to eliminate the influence of big money and level the playing field among candidates.
Gonzales has said repeatedly that he doesn’t want or need PAC support, but also has defended the rights of outside groups like unions to participate in the election process. There are no legal limits on spending by PACs or other groups outside the candidate campaigns, but the city attorney’s office has said candidates and PACs should operate independently.
Bushe issued a statement late Tuesday that said in part:
“The citizens of Santa Fe are well aware of what’s right and what’s wrong. Regardless of the Ethics Committee’s decision not to pursue Mr. Rowe’s complaint, it is clear that the entry of PACs into this election has given Javier Gonzales an advantage by virtually doubling the amount of money being spent on his behalf.
Today’s campaign financial reports show that the PAC’s and outside interests supporting Javier Gonzales have already spent nearly $50,000 supporting his campaign, in addition the nearly $43,000 his campaign has spent itself. Most troubling is that the Gonzales outside money is being used for distortions of Patti’s record and some mud-slinging,” campaign co-chair Walt Borton said, “making it easy for the candidate to appear to remain on the high-ground.’
“`t may be legal, but it’s not fair play and it makes a mockery of public financing which the citizens of Santa Fe have said they wanted specifically to avoid this situation.'”
Ethics board debate
The board’s decision Tuesday came after it heard from Rowe and attorneys representing Hendry and the outside groups and then spent more than an hour in executive session.
While Rowe acknowledged that he was a Bushee supporter, he said he filed the complaint as a citizen and attorney who believes that the participation of PACs in publicly financed elections is wrong. He said that the board should move forward and investigate the matter more closely because probable cause existed.
“The responses filed yesterday do not include specific statements that no member of the Gonzales campaign has communicated with the PACs,” Rowe said, adding that he felt discovery ought to be introduced before the board rendered a decision.
Justin Kaufman, representing Gonzales, said the complaint was legally insufficient and that the responses from each of the other groups said there was “absolutely zero coordination.”
Stephen Curtice, who represents both Hendry and AFSCME, said his client shouldn’t be party to the case because Hendry resigned as chairman of Progressive Santa Fe on Oct. 8 and the allegations outlined in the complaint occurred after that date.
Curtice also said that it wasn’t true the purpose of the public campaign financing code was to eliminate outside groups from participating in elections and that courts have repeatedly affirmed the rights of such groups to participate.
Kirtan Khalsa, representing both Progressive Santa Fe and Santa Fe Working Families, agreed. “The essence of all the claims is any participation by PACs should be disallowed. That, of course, isn’t the law,” she said.
Santa Fe’s Ethics and Campaign Review Board on Tuesday dismissed a complaint alleging that mayoral candidate Javier Gonzales and labor union leader Jon Hendry worked in concert with outside groups in violation of the city’s public campaign financing program.
“The board disagrees with the complainant’s interpretation of the standard for coordination or contribution between a political committee and a candidate,” said Justin Miller, chairman of the review board. “The board finds that the complaint fails to allege facts showing that there is probable cause to believe that the respondents made or benefited by a contribution made in cooperation, consultation, or in concert with the candidate’s committee. Therefore, the complaint is dismissed.”
The complaint was filed by Fred Rowe, a Santa Fe attorney who once chaired the ECRB and is supporting Patti Bushee in the mayoral election.
Rowe alleged that Hendry served as an intermediary for concerted actions between Gonzales’ campaign and two political action committees, Progressive Santa Fe PAC and union-financed Santa Fe Working Families, as well as Working American, a group affiliated with the AFL-CIO.