An Albuquerque board on Monday found in favor of an ethics complaint alleging that City Council candidate Javier Benavidez improperly obtained public campaign financing and fined him $1,900, or $100 per violation found by investigators.
The city Board of Ethics voted 6-0 in favor of the complaint filed by Albuquerque attorney Pat Rogers on behalf of two voters who alleged that Benavidez failed to collect $5 donations from each of the 381 voters he need to qualify for about $38,000 in public financing.
The complaint also alleged that Benavidez failed to properly document the donations in forms he submitted to Albuquerque officials under the city’s election code.
Benavidez will face District 1 City Councilor Ken Sanchez, and challengers Johnny Luevano Jr. and Sandra Mills in the city’s Oct. 3 election.
Both sides claimed partial victory Monday and said they would consider appealing the board’s decision in District Court.
“This is sort of a win-lose for both sides,” said David Urias, an Albuquerque attorney representing Benavidez.
The board did not issue a reprimand against Benavidez, or recommend that City Council block him from taking office if elected – the strongest actions the board could have taken.
Rogers said that he and his clients will consider asking a District Court judge to order stronger penalties for Benavidez.
“We’re glad that (board members) recognize the validity of the complaint,” Rogers said. Benavidez “cheated to obtain the $38,000. I grieve for the taxpayer.”
Investigators with the city’s Office of the Inspector General who interviewed 40 District 1 voters found that “some registered voters indicated that they did not contribute all or a portion of the required $5.” Investigators prepared the report at the direction of the Board of Ethics.
Benavidez was required to collect $5 donations from at least 381 voters to qualify for public campaign funding. Benavidez collected 455 donations, of which the City Clerk’s Office accepted 399, qualifying him for $38,131 in city funds.
Benavidez testified in a six-hour hearing Aug. 30 that he and his representatives had acted in “good faith” to gather the required $5 donations and complete forms, which he attributed to “human error” by a small number of his volunteers.