An ethics board has determined former Bernalillo County Commissioner Charlene Pyskoty violated county code by accepting a large campaign contribution from a lobbyist who does business with the county.
The county’s Code of Conduct Review Board on Wednesday publicly censured Pyskoty and fined her $500.
At issue is the $5,000 in-kind contribution Pyskoty’s 2022 reelection campaign reported receiving from lobbyist Vanessa Alarid’s firm. A citizen formally complained in November that the donation was improper because Alarid works on behalf of Santolina’s development team which has sought — and will continue to need — Bernalillo County commissioner approval for its planned community projects on the Southwest Mesa. That makes Alarid a “restricted donor,” complainant Carl Peterson alleged, and county code prohibits officials and candidates from accepting campaign contributions over $1,000 from restricted donors.
The board agreed with Peterson on that point.
Pyskoty’s “acceptance of the $5,000 campaign contribution where she knew or had reason to believe that the original source was a restricted donor was a clear violation” of the code, the board wrote in an order issued and signed Wednesday by vice-chairman Kevin Sanders. The contribution was the largest during Pyskoty’s unsuccessful 2022 reelection campaign.
However, the board dismissed Peterson’s claim that Pyskoty had a conflict of interest when she participated in a November commission vote to appoint Alarid’s husband — Antonio “Moe” Maestas — to a vacant seat in the New Mexico Senate. The board found that Peterson failed to provide enough evidence to substantiate that allegation.
Pyskoty’s attorney, Jacob Candelaria, said the former commissioner was pleased the board dismissed what he called “the most politically motivated and outlandish” charges but that they are still reviewing the rest of the order.
“The Board’s decision that my client received a contribution of more than $1,000 from a restricted donor is not supported by substantial evidence and this may very well be subject to a forthcoming appeal,” Candelaria wrote in an email Wednesday.
Peterson did not immediately return a Journal message Wednesday.
The order comes a week after the board held a hearing on the case that Pyskoty did not attend. Candelaria argued the board had not provided sufficient formal notice of the hearing — only seven days instead of 10. The board disputed that in its order, saying Candelaria had affirmed in a Jan. 19 email that the Jan. 31 hearing date worked for his client.