Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Sheriff Manuel Gonzales’ mayoral campaign and three of his supporters have filed a class-action lawsuit against the Albuquerque city clerk and city government in the contentious battle over public financing for the 2021 election.
In the complaint filed Thursday in state District Court in Albuquerque, the plaintiffs are seeking certification as a class representing all voters who made $5 qualifying contributions to help the sheriff in his application for over $600,000 in taxpayer money.
Reiterating many of the arguments presented during an administrative appeal hearing this week over Clerk Ethan Watson’s rejection of Gonzales’ public financing application, the suit says “the Court must intercede to prevent this election from being taken from the voters, in plain view of the voters.”
Watson denied Gonzales campaign financing after reviewing documents Mayor Tim Keller’s reelection campaign provided as part of ethics complaints filed against Gonzales, including allegations that the sheriff personally committed fraud in the qualifying process and that campaign representatives forged voter signatures on documents. The campaign denied the allegation, but confirmed that some paperwork the campaign submitted was likely forged.
“In any large-scale (qualifying contribution) or signature-collection operation, it unfortunately sometimes happens that a small number of overzealous or dumb campaign workers take it upon themselves to cut unacceptable corners by forging names,” the suit says.
The suit contends the sheriff had sufficient voter support to qualify for public financing, even excluding the forged paperwork.
Watson on Friday said he could not speak about pending litigation. But in rejecting Gonzales’ public financing application, Watson cited a regulatory provision barring the clerk from certifying a candidate for public campaign financing who was found to have submitted fraudulent or falsified documents that the candidate himself knew about or should have known about.
Watson and the clerk’s attorneys have noted that many of the alleged forgeries were on documents signed by people at the heart of the Gonzales campaign – two women Gonzales designated to represent his campaign in official dealings with the Clerk’s Office.
Gonzales’ attorney, Carter B. Harrison IV, contends Watson denied the sheriff due process, arguing that, as a Keller appointee, Watson is not neutral. He also said Watson did not ask Gonzales to address the evidence before he rendered his decision to deny public financing.
Meanwhile, the city of Albuquerque’s Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices on Friday voted to delay an evidentiary hearing on the first of two ethics complaints lodged against Gonzales’ campaign, pending the results of an Office of Inspector General investigation the board ordered.