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Editorial: ABQ may need a foundation, but not fundraiser in chief

The One Albuquerque Fund sounds like a good idea. Launched last year by the city, it is designed to attract additional resources “in support of and to supplement city priorities.” Some examples: spending on police recruiting, housing vouchers and workforce development.

While all are fine ideas for the city to pursue given its police manpower shortage and homelessness issues, they also sound a whole lot like a political agenda.

And while there is no evidence of impropriety, when it comes to appearances Mayor Tim Keller is skating on thin ethical ice by personally soliciting money to help with pet projects that may help his political future.

First, it’s important to note the city’s elected officials can’t solicit campaign contributions – or receive them – from vendors who do business with the city. The same is true for Bernalillo County commissioners. And the reasons for that should be obvious. It just looks bad.

All told, according to a story published Monday by Journal reporter Jessica Dyer, 35 entities and individuals have ponied up $248,250 in contributions to the One Albuquerque Fund.

Keller spokesman Jessie Damazyn didn’t say how many donors Keller had met with personally but did say he had talked with “nearly all” of them. Fresquez Concessions, which has an active agreement with the city to run all food and beverage business at the Albuquerque International Sunport, contributed $20,000.

Other heavy hitters on the list who aren’t vendors but some of whose operations could intersect with city regulators include Comcast, Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Mexico, New Mexico Gas Co., McDonald’s and Netflix. They have given $10,000 each.

The real estate and development industry also has contributed. Bradbury Stamm and property management company RMCI each gave $10,000. Real estate developer Gary Goodman kicked in $5,000, as did local restaurateur Nick Kapnison.

Golden Pride Chicken gave $20,000, and Frontier Restaurant gave $5,000. Both are owned by Larry Rainosek, who said he made the donations after a meeting with Keller that was set up by the Mayor’s Office.

Rainosek is an incredibly successful businessman, as well as a philanthropist who supports other causes. There is no reason to doubt him when he says “we always try to do things that will benefit the city and the community.”

Rainosek said he didn’t think the contribution bought influence but said the meeting about the foundation gave him a long-awaited opportunity to air his grievances about Albuquerque Rapid Transit and some changes he would like to see.

“He had his agenda,” Rainosek said. “And I had mine.”

It’s perfectly reasonable for Rainosek to want to vent his frustrations and objections to the mayor about ART. The problem is in the ask by the mayor, and that it appears Rainosek didn’t get a chance to air those grievances until the mayor wanted a donation for his foundation.

Meanwhile, Damazyn said donations would not affect how the city chooses contractors, citing the city’s procurement process. She also noted other entities like Albuquerque Public Schools and the University of New Mexico have foundations.

And while it is a big plus that the city foundation will comply with the state Inspection of Public Records Act, according to Damazyn (the UNM Foundation has argued in court it is not subject to the state’s public records law), it is important to note APS and UNM have separate boards so the superintendent and president can do their jobs running their respective operations rather than a perennial fundraising tour of pet projects.

If Keller wants the One Albuquerque Fund to succeed and prosper, with no political taint, he can’t be fundraiser in chief as well as mayor. He needs to remove himself from the fundraising process and let the foundation rise or fall on the work it does.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.