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An investigation by Albuquerque’s Office of the Inspector General has found that Sheriff Manuel Gonzales’ mayoral campaign cut corners in its quest for more than $600,000 in public financing.
The report issued Monday by the OIG substantiated allegations made against Gonzales’ campaign, including that it submitted a substantial number of qualifying contributions for which voters neither signed the receipt nor paid the required $5 contribution. In so doing, the campaign violated city laws that spell out what candidates must do to tap into public financing.
As part of its investigation, the OIG interviewed a random sample of 239 people listed on qualifying contribution forms and found that in 23 instances – about 10% of the sample – people said they didn’t sign the forms or pay the $5 contribution, as required by city election laws.
An additional 15 people told investigators they signed the qualifying contribution receipt, but did not pay the $5 contribution, investigators found.
These instances involved 11 different representatives from the Gonzales’ campaign, the report said.
OIG investigators interviewed the 239 city voters at their homes between July 20 and Aug. 13, according to the report.
The investigation stemmed from two complaints filed by Neri Holguin, manager of Mayor Tim Keller’s reelection campaign, alleging Gonzales violated city election laws.
Both Gonzales and Keller sought public campaign financing. City election laws require mayoral candidates to submit $5 qualifying contributions from 3,779 city voters to qualify for public funding.
City Clerk Ethan Watson used evidence presented in Keller’s complaints to reject Gonzales’ application for public financing. Keller, meanwhile, has qualified for the $661,000 in public financing, despite ethics complaints filed against his campaign by Gonzales supporters.
Holguin said Monday the OIG report confirms allegations made in Keller’s two ethics complaints.
“The Inspector General found that forgery and fraud was widespread among Gonzales’ staff, and that Sheriff Gonzales – despite his attempts to blame his staff – personally committed fraud when he failed to collect qualifying contributions from voters,” Holguin said in a written statement.
But Shannan Calland, manager of the Gonzales campaign, said the OIG report confirms that Gonzales submitted enough valid contributions to qualify for public financing.
“The IG report notes how confusing this process is for voters, which is precisely why no other city clerk has ever disqualified a candidate from public financing for irregularities when they have submitted enough valid qualifying contributions,” Calland said in a written statement.
The report noted that many people interviewed expressed confusion about the difference between petition signatures and qualifying contributions, and their purpose.
“The decision by the Clerk to use one set of rules for Manny Gonzales and another for his boss (Mayor Tim Keller) is a stunning act of arrogance and contempt for the citizens, and we are aggressively pursuing legal action to prevent Albuquerque voters from being disenfranchised,” Calland said.
Gonzales has appealed to 2nd Judicial District Court Watson’s decision to deny him public financing.
Judge Bryan Biedscheid of the 1st Judicial District has been designated presiding judge in the case.
The Office of the Inspector General is an independent city agency.
The OIG attempted to speak with people listed in city records as designated representatives for the Gonzales campaign.
One of those representatives, Megan McMillan, referred investigators to her attorneys, Bob Gorence and Jason Bowles, who responded that McMillan would cooperate only if a subpoena were issued.
McMillan did not immediately respond Monday to phone and email messages seeking comment.
The city’s Board of Ethics & Campaign Practices voted July 16 to refer the complaints to the OIG.
The OIG also investigated two other aspects of complaints against Gonzales’ campaign:
• Investigators interviewed 18 people whose qualifying contribution forms for Gonzales were flagged by the Keller campaign. Of the 18 people interviewed, eight said they had neither signed the qualifying contribution form nor paid the $5 contribution as represented by the Gonzales campaign. One other person said they signed the form, but did not pay $5.
• The OIG also selected a sample of people with qualifying contribution receipts dated May 27, the day Gonzales attended a Salvation Army Advisory Board meeting as an invited speaker. Keller’s first complaint alleges that, at that event, Gonzales offered to cover the $5 contribution.
Of those interviewed, five said they had attended the meeting where Gonzales spoke. Of the five, two said they had neither signed the qualifying contribution receipt, nor paid the $5 contribution. Two others said they had signed, but did not pay the $5.