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In-kind donations ruled out in runoff elections

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Tim Keller

The city’s Board of Ethics & Campaign Practices has determined that publicly financed candidates are not allowed to accept in-kind contributions during a runoff period.

State Auditor Tim Keller, who is facing City Councilor Dan Lewis in Albuquerque’s Nov. 14 mayoral runoff election, requested the advisory opinion.

“A (publicly financed) candidate may accept in-kind contributions only from the beginning of the exploratory period up to the regular municipal election,” board Chairman Andrew Schultz said during Thursday morning’s board meeting. The board approved the advisory opinion by a unanimous vote.

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The determination affects Keller, the only publicly financed candidate in the mayoral runoff, and Cynthia Borrego, the only publicly financed candidate in the City Council District 5 runoff. Borrego is running against Robert Aragon.

The board’s decision means that Keller and Borrego will have to make do with the additional city funds they will be receiving once the results of the Oct. 3 election are certified. Keller will receive 33 cents for every registered voter in the city, or about $125,000. Borrego will receive 33 cents for every registered voter in District 5, or about $15,000.

In-kind contributions are goods or services given to a campaign, such as campaign signs that a supporter pays for.

“We appreciate the opinion provided by the city at the Tim Keller campaign’s request,” said Molly Schmidt-Nowara, attorney for the campaign. “This provides much-needed clarity to some gray areas that all publicly financed campaigns face. We are looking forward to continuing our campaign with transparency and to demonstrate that despite its challenges, public financing is a better way to run for office in Albuquerque.”

Keller is already facing an ethics complaint over accusations that he circumvented the public financing system by accepting checks made out to Rio Strategies, the firm running his campaign, and reporting them as in-kind contributions.

He has reported receiving $37,820 in in-kind campaign contributions from supporters.

The Keller campaign has said it did nothing wrong, saying it used the funds to purchase supplies and services, which, it argues, is allowed under city rules. An evidentiary hearing on the complaint that was supposed to be held Thursday was postponed.

Publicly financed candidates must adhere to certain restrictions. They can’t take cash donations like privately financed candidates. Keller received about $343,000 in city funding for his initial mayoral campaign, and he was allowed to raise seed money that pushed his total resources to about $380,000 leading up to the Oct. 3 election. And Keller was allowed to accept up to about $38,000 in in-kind donations of goods or services, but not money, to his campaign.

The Borrego campaign has also been hit with an ethics complaint alleging that she received improper donations and labeled them as in-kind contributions. That case is still making its way through the ethics board process.

Lewis had raised $589,616 and had a little more than $44,000 remaining as of Monday, which he can use for his runoff election. Aragon raised more than $58,000 for his run and had $5,000 in the bank.

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