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2 mayoral candidates facing ethics complaints

Richard J. Berry

Richard J. Berry

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Mayor Richard Berry and another mayoral candidate, Pete Dinelli, face ethics complaints centering on whether they accepted improper campaign contributions from companies with ties to the city.

Local activist Andres Valdez filed the complaints with the city’s Board of Ethics & Campaign Practices earlier this week.

They focus on a Journal report that showed Berry’s re-election campaign has accepted about $17,000 in donations from people who own or work as executives for companies that have city contracts. Dinelli, meanwhile, has accepted about $200 in such contributions, $100 each from two partners in the Modrall Sperling law firm, which has a city contract.

The City Charter bans campaign contributions from business entities and city contractors.

The charter prohibition on “business entities” applies to companies or an agent making a contribution on a company’s behalf. The ban on contractors applies to “any person” who, when the contribution is made, “is in a contractual relationship with the city to provide goods or services to the city.”

Dinelli announced Thursday that he’s donating the two questioned contributions to charity, even though he doesn’t believe they were improper. He intended to visit the Roadrunner Food Bank to deliver a $200 donation.

 Pete Dinelli

Pete Dinelli

“We do not believe that there was anything improper with the two donations, but in the interest of the utmost transparency, we’re going to be donating $200 to a local charity,” Dinelli spokesman Alan Packman said.

In a written statement, Dinelli said: “During this campaign, and as mayor, I will always lead Albuquerque by example.”

Berry campaign attorney Paul Kienzle has said the contributions in question are protected by the First Amendment and, furthermore, they didn’t come from people with “direct contractual” relationships with the city. The campaign also said it’s been working with the city clerk’s office to ensure it complies with campaign rules.

Under the charter, the remedy for an “unknowing violation” of the contractor or business ban is the return of the contribution.

No penalty for a deliberate violation is mentioned, but the ethics board generally has power to issue public reprimands and impose fines.

Valdez’s complaint cites the charter’s ban on city officials receiving gifts, not the ban on contributions from contractors and businesses. But he also describes the alleged violation as the acceptance of contributions from people associated with companies that have city contracts.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal