Council runoff candidates abandon public financing - Albuquerque Journal

Council runoff candidates abandon public financing

District 9 Albuquerque City Council candidates Rob Grilley, left, and Renee Grout.

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque’s public campaign financing program helped power Tammy Fiebelkorn into the runoff round of a crowded Albuquerque City Council race, but she worried it was not enough to keep her competitive against her privately financed competitor.

The District 7 candidate made what she said was the difficult decision to forgo the limited, taxpayer-funded pot she’d earned as she prepared to go head to head with Lori Robertson in the Dec. 7 runoff. Fiebelkorn will rely instead on private donations in the runoff cycle.

“I’m a firm supporter of public financing and keeping special interests out of the election to (the greatest) extent possible, but the allotment for the runoff is really too low,” she said. “We’re up against a really well-funded opponent (in Robertson).”

District 7 Albuquerque City Council runoff candidates Tammy Fiebelkorn, left, and Lori Robertson.

Robertson earned her spot in the runoff via a privately financed campaign. She spent $72,687 in the lead-up to the Nov. 2 regular election, according to the latest numbers available on the city’s campaign finance website. As a publicly financed candidate, Fiebelkorn’s spending was capped at $44,194.

Fiebelkorn would have received $14,584 more from city coffers to fund her runoff had she continued with the public financing program, but the rules would have barred her from collecting any private contributions.

“That’s 33 cents a registered voter, which isn’t even a stamp,” she said, “so we couldn’t make that work.”

Fiebelkorn is not alone.

Both candidates in the other 2021 council runoff race – Renee Grout and Rob Grilley from District 9 – each qualified for, and used, taxpayer funds for the Nov. 2 election, but have opted out of public financing for the runoff.

“We thought it was in our best interest to do it that way,” Grout said of her campaign, adding that she believes she can raise more money privately than the $13,791 she would have received through the public program. “We don’t think $13,000 is enough.”

Grilley said Grout’s switch – which she touted in a Nov. 4 Facebook post – was a factor in his decision, as was his research on the 2019 Albuquerque City Council election cycle. Brook Bassan and Ane Romero each used public financing in the regular election and advanced to the District 4 runoff. Bassan then switched to private financing. Romero received a $12,909 disbursement from the city for her runoff effort, while Bassan ultimately raised over $83,000 en route to victory, records show.

Grilley said he values the public financing program and was proud to use it, but it likely needs some tweaks. He said he felt “pushed into a corner” to abandon it.

“I really don’t want to be in a situation where I get to stand proudly (with public financing) getting absolutely blown out of the water because I have no opportunity to (distinguish) myself from my opponent because she has three to five times as much money and mailers as I do,” Grilley said.

Albuquerque’s public financing program was used heavily during this year’s regular election cycle. Mayor Tim Keller was reelected while running on public financing. Nine council candidates also used it, including the winners of the three races already decided – Dan Lewis, Louie Sanchez and the uncontested Klarissa Peña.

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