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Inquiry targets City Council races, anti-Keller attack ads

The city’s Board of Ethics decided Wednesday to move forward with complaints filed against City Council candidate Cynthia Borrego, City Councilor Don Harris and the political action committee that launched attack ads against mayoral candidate Tim Keller.

Cynthia Borrego

The decision to accept the complaints and hold evidentiary hearings in the cases isn’t a finding that the individuals or the committee violated city rules, but merely a determination that there may have been violations if the allegations in the complaints are proved.

City Councilor Don Harris

Borrego, who is running against Robert Aragon in the District 5 council runoff, is accused of accepting cash contributions and reporting them as in-kind contributions for signs and other election materials. Borrego is a publicly financed candidate and cannot take cash contributions, argued Colin Hunter, an attorney for West Side resident Felix Nuñez, who filed the complaint.

But Greg Payne, Borrego’s attorney, said no money changed hands between donors and his client. He said donors purchased campaign materials themselves, which he said is exactly what is envisioned by city rules.

Borrego’s campaign issued a news release that accused the board of being partisan and of moving a frivolous complaint forward.

“Our campaign followed the law and the direction given to us by the city clerk,” the release says. “We did not violate the rules.”

The ethics complaint against Harris was filed by Byron Powdrell, one of Harris’ opponents in the Oct. 3 election. Harris prevailed in that race.

But during the campaign, Harris created a website alleging past criminal behavior by Powdrell. The website contained links to dozens of police reports, criminal complaints and restraining orders stemming from alleged incidents of domestic violence in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

During the hearing, Powdrell told the board that Harris’ actions had brought violence to his home, resulting in broken windows and threatening phone calls. He alleged that his credit has been affected because Harris posted his personal information on the website. Powdrell also said Harris failed to declare the cost of the private investigator hired to dig into his past.

Attorney Doug Antoon, who represented Harris, said Powdrell’s complaint is insufficient to move forward because it doesn’t state a violation for which relief could be granted. He said that what is being alleged is beyond the board’s purview, and he asked the board to dismiss the complaint.

In response to questions from the board, Antoon said Harris’ law firm hired a private investigator to do research on Powdrell and then donated that work product to the campaign as an in-kind contribution. Harris ran a publicly financed campaign.

The two complaints against Make Albuquerque Safe – the political action committee that ran attack ads against Keller – were filed by Neri Holguin, chairwoman of ABQ Forward Together, the political action committee backing Keller.

One of Holguin’s complaints alleges that Make Albuquerque Safe failed to disclose contributions from Western Albuquerque Land Holdings, the owner of the Santolina development, and another donor in a timely manner. Her second complaint alleges that the committee broke the rules by failing to include the name and address of the establishment that created the television and radio spots attacking Keller.

The board majority voted to hold one evidentiary hearing on both matters.

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