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Gonzales appeals denial of financial backing

Mayor Tim Keller, left, and Sheriff Manuel Gonzales

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales is appealing the Albuquerque city clerk’s decision to deny him over $600,000 in public financing for his mayoral campaign.

Clerk Ethan Watson confirmed the appeal Monday, but neither Gonzales nor his campaign had provided a copy of the filing as of deadline.

The move sends the matter to a city hearing officer, who must conduct a hearing within five days, according to the City Charter. The hearing officer has three days after the proceeding to issue a ruling. The parties then have a chance to appeal the ruling in state District Court.

Watson notified Gonzales on Friday that he could not certify the sheriff as a “participating candidate” in the city’s public financing program, thereby denying him a taxpayer-supported pot worth $661,000 minus any seed money raised earlier in the campaign.

The City Clerk denied Gonzales’ application, citing evidence presented with two ethics complaints filed by Gonzales’ opponent, incumbent Mayor Tim Keller. Both allege Gonzales’ campaign committed fraud in the public financing qualifying process.

Mayoral candidates who want public campaign financing must get at least 1% of registered city voters – 3,779 people – to demonstrate support by making a nominal contribution of $5.

The Clerk’s Office had verified more than 4,100 such contributions submitted by each candidate, according to the City Clerk’s website.

But in one ethics complaint, a voter alleged that Gonzales told him he did not have to give the $5 and that Gonzales’ campaign would cover the cost. Gonzales’ campaign has denied that.

In the second complaint, Keller’s campaign claims Gonzales submitted forged documents, alleging nearly 150 examples of faked voter signatures.

Keller’s team recently submitted signed statements from about 40 people who said they never signed the $5 contribution receipts bearing their name that Gonzales’ campaign turned in to qualify for the public financing.

Gonzales’ campaign has not directly addressed the newly signed statements from voters who say their signatures on his documentation were illegitimate. However, when Keller’s campaign first alleged forgery last month, Gonzales’ campaign in a statement said it appeared to be “nothing more than innocent administrative mistakes made by volunteers in a handful” of cases.

A spokeswoman also has contended that the sheriff was unquestionably qualified as he turned in hundreds more verified $5 contributions than needed.

Should Watson’s decision stand, Gonzales could still shift to running a privately funded campaign.

Watson’s action last week does not affect the mayoral ballot. The Bernalillo County Clerk has certified that both Gonzales and Keller collected enough petition signatures to get on the Nov. 2 ballot.

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