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Second ethics case against Keller to move forward

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Mayor Tim Keller

The city of Albuquerque’s Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices voted unanimously Tuesday to move forward with an ethics complaint filed against Mayor Tim Keller and a former city council candidate alleging that they failed to report attorney fees on their campaign finance reports.

The decision to accept the complaint and hold an evidentiary hearing isn’t a finding that Keller or Javier Benavidez, who ran unsuccessfully for a council seat, violated city rules, but merely a determination that there may have been violations if the allegations in the complaint are proven. Both Keller and Benavidez ran publicly financed campaigns.

The board dismissed a separate complaint against Keller filed by former opponent Wayne Johnson that alleged coordination with a group that was supporting him.

“We appreciate the board’s dismissal of the baseless complaint brought by former political opponent Wayne Johnson,” said Molly Schmidt Nowara, one of Keller’s attorneys. “We look forward to a full hearing on the similarly unfounded complaint that was brought forward for the purpose of playing politics.”

Benavidez said he’s looking forward to the evidentiary hearing.

The ethics complaint involving legal fees was filed by private investigator Carlos McMahon. Keller hired attorneys to defend him against two separate ethics complaints, and he previously testified he didn’t report those fees because he was paying for them out of his own pocket since the complaints named him personally.

If the board determines that those should have been reported, then Keller would also be in violation of campaign finance rules that required him not to spend more than the public dollars and seed money he reported for his campaign. He could be ordered to repay some city funds he received. Benavidez would be in a similar boat.

Attorney A. Blair Dunn, who represented McMahon, applauded the board’s decision to move the case forward, noting that Keller received hundreds of thousands of dollars in city money to run his campaign.

“There’s a public trust that a failure to follow the rules violates…,” Dunn said.

The board also dismissed two ethics complaints filed against former mayoral candidate Dan Lewis. One alleged he had an unlawful interest in a city contract. The other allege Lewis broke campaign finance rules by accepting thousands of dollars in contributions from individuals who are agents of city contractors or vendors.

“I think the complaints against Dan Lewis were frivolous …,” said Albuquerque attorney Pat Rogers, who represented Lewis.

Rogers also represented Johnson on the coordination complaint against Keller. The board determined there was “insufficient factual allegation” to move forward. The ethics board in another complaint about Keller’s handling of in-kind contributions determined in November that he violated city campaign finance rules, but didn’t intend to, so it did not issue a reprimand or fine.

“They transformed cash into ‘in-kind’ donations and they failed to report expenses or pro bono contributions,” Rogers said. “And, yes, they illegally coordinated, failed to report the illegal coordination and busted the in-kind cap, again.”