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A Bernalillo County resident is alleging that an elected commissioner violated the county’s code of conduct by accepting a campaign contribution from a “restricted donor” and asking that the commissioner sit out a planned vote that may involve that donor’s husband.
The complaint adds a new wrinkle to the commission’s Tuesday decision about whom it appoints to fill a vacancy in the New Mexico Senate – a decision that already has sparked infighting.
Carl Peterson’s complaint requests that County Commissioner Charlene Pyskoty recuse herself from discussion and debate about whether to appoint Antonio “Moe” Maestas to the West Side Albuquerque Senate seat, arguing her participation could serve to benefit Maestas and his wife, lobbyist Vanessa Alarid, whose firm made the single largest contribution to Pyskoty’s reelection campaign.
Maestas, a Democrat, is already in the state House of Representatives but has publicly stated his interest in moving into a state Senate seat recently vacated by Jacob Candelaria. State law requires the county commission to appoint someone to serve the remaining two years of Candelaria’s term.
State senators have larger districts and get more discretionary capital outlay money to distribute each year than members of the House. They also have longer terms – four years versus two for representatives.
The county accepted applications for the senate seat through Thursday, though it is unclear who has applied as the county was closed for Veterans Day on Friday. The appointment is on Tuesday’s commission agenda.
Peterson’s complaint centers on a campaign contribution Pyskoty received from Alarid Consulting.
Alarid’s firm made a $5,000 in-kind contribution to Pyskoty’s unsuccessful reelection campaign during this year’s primary season, according to campaign finance reports. It represented over a quarter of the $18,165 in contributions Pyskoty’s campaign had in 2022.
Alarid has lobbied for Western Albuquerque Land Holdings. WALH and its development team intend to build a planned community called Santolina with over 38,000 homes in western Bernalillo County. The sweeping development has required – and will continue to need – various approvals from county commissioners.
Peterson contends Alarid meets the county’s definition of a “restricted donor,” specifically someone “seeking official action … by an elected official.” The county’s code of conduct bars candidates and elected officials from taking any campaign contribution over $1,000 from a “restricted donor.”
Pyskoty has said she has no relationship with Alarid or Maestas, but has declined to answer Journal questions about whether she communicated with Alarid about the contribution or whether she knew if it came from a specific client.
Pyskoty did not respond to Journal messages seeking comment Friday.
Peterson’s complaint also alleges that Pyskoty failed to properly report the contribution, reporting it weeks later than state law required. Since it was not “lawfully made and reported in accordance with the election code,” Peterson argues it is therefore a “gift.” The county’s code also prohibits candidates and public servants from accepting gifts over $100 from a “restricted donor.”
Peterson does not live in Pyskoty’s district nor within the boundaries of the state senate district in play but said he believes Pyskoty has a conflict of interest and wanted to speak up.
“I think it’s an important issue. Unfortunately, there are, dare I say, corrupt elements that live within our government,” he told the Journal Friday. “I think as a citizen when you see something that should be investigated, you need to raise the flag and say, ‘Let’s see if we can’t get to the bottom of the issue.'”
Peterson provided the Journal a copy of the complaint he said he hand-delivered to the county’s headquarters on Thursday.
Alarid on Friday declined to comment on the complaint, saying she had not seen evidence it was filed or the county was investigating.
“Unless there is something that has been filed and referred for investigation, there is nothing to respond to,” Alarid said in a statement to the Journal.
Alarid said the contribution to Pyskoty from her firm was not made on behalf of any of her clients.
“I make my own money and decide who I choose to support,” she said in a statement.
Choosing Candelaria’s successor has ignited a battle within the commission. Three members – Psykoty, Steven Michael Quezada and Walt Benson – attempted to expedite the decision, trying to schedule it about three weeks sooner than Commission Chairwoman Adriann Barboa had planned.
Their unsuccessful effort, led by Pyskoty, galled Commissioner Debbie O’Malley, whose district covers most of the Senate district and who had expressed a desire to take more time. The timeline triggered a heated debate during the last commission meeting, prompting O’Malley to call Pyskoty a “bitch” shortly after the meeting’s adjournment while commissioners and county staff were still in the chambers.