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Political committees spend more than $100,000 on local elections

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

One mailer asks voters to tell District 2 City Councilor Isaac Benton that “he and his buses can hit the road” and features an image of an Albuquerque Rapid Transit bus.

Another urges District 4 residents to reject council candidate Brook Bassan over her ties to Jay McCleskey, former political strategist for Gov. Susana Martinez.

Benton has five challengers in the Nov. 5 election, and Bassan is one of three candidates running for the District 4 spot, but neither mailer came from their opponents’ campaigns.

They’re part of $121,318 in spending this election year by registered Measure Finance Committees, according to the city clerk’s online records.

MFCs are political committees or individuals that raise or spend money to support or oppose city candidates and ballot measures. City election code requires an MFC to register and file campaign finance reports if it spends more than $250 to influence the outcome of an election or takes in at least $250 in contributions.

Ten such organizations have registered for this year’s election, according to the city’s website.

The most prolific is not related to a candidate, but rather a proposition that Albuquerque voters will see on their ballot: Democracy Dollars.

The MFC designed to support Democracy Dollars – a program that would give Albuquerque residents $25 vouchers to spend on the publicly financed mayoral and City Council candidates of their choice – has raised $88,169 in cash and spent $73,848, according to reporting through Monday.

It has logged another $203,070 in in-kind contributions, mostly in the form of staff time from the supporting organizations. They include the New Mexico Working Families Party, Common Cause New Mexico, Center for Civic Policy, Equality New Mexico, OLÉ and U.S. PIRG.

At least one advocacy group that opposes Democracy Dollars, the Rio Grande Foundation, has spent $500 on radio ads, although it has not recorded that spending with the city. It also has not reported how much staff time it has devoted to election-related issues.

City Clerk Katy Duhigg said Tuesday that the radio ad spending “appears” to meet the threshold that would require the Rio Grande Foundation and its media buyer, RG Mountaintop Consulting, to register.

She said she has provided the foundation and the consultant with copies of the election code and MFC rules on behalf of the city’s Board of Ethics, and asked that it register with the city within five days.

“I don’t think their statute is legal,” RGF president Paul Gessing told the Journal via email Tuesday morning. “We have pending litigation on a similar issue on (the) Santa Fe soda tax.”

But Gessing said Tuesday afternoon that the organization was “planning to register upon advice of our attorney.”

Other MFCs are more candidate-oriented.

The Albuquerque Working Families Party MFC has spent $25,850, largely in support of District 8 candidate Maurreen Skowran, who is running a publicly financed campaign against privately funded incumbent Trudy Jones. The MFC also paid for the aforementioned anti-Bassan mailer.

Nearly all the organization’s cash has come from the California-based Green Advocacy Project and the Sierra Club Political Committee, each of which gave $25,000.

“My biggest beef about this is the reason we have public financing is the argument that our candidates shouldn’t be owing and indebted to big supporters who give us their money to do this, so why are we accepting this kind of money from out-of-state, big-money people?” Jones said of the MFC’s support of Skowran.

Eric Griego, who has raised money for the MFC, said that the group is not coordinating with Skowran’s campaign but that there is broader interest in defeating Jones, given her support from the development industry. Jones, a former commercial real estate broker, has raised $84,235 since January. Many donations came from real estate and development professionals and entities.

“They’re investing in a candidate they absolutely own,” Griego said, adding that Jones has raised about twice what Skowran’s campaign received through public financing.

Jones disputes that she is beholden to the development industry.

“I try to make an informed decision and vote for what’s best for the city,” she said of her council votes. “I am pro-business, because without business there is very little city, and there is business in the city other than development.”

Other registered MFCs that have spent at least $1,500 include:

• The Democratic Party of New Mexico MFC, which has collected $10,014 in contributions and spent it all.

• The ABQ United for District 2 MFC, which has raised $5,550 in cash, with donors including New Mexico United soccer team owner Peter Trevisani. It spent $4,945, including paying for the aforementioned anti-Benton mailer.

• The ABQ FIREPAC, which has raised $6,000 and spent $5,035.

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