A letter of complaint that current and former mayoral candidates issued questioning City Councilor Patti Bushee’s eligibility to receive public financing for her own campaign for mayor won’t be considered by the city’s Ethics and Campaign Review Board.
Candidate Javier Gonzales and City Councilor Rebecca Wurzburger, who pulled out of the mayor’s race over the weekend, withdrew their letter at an ethics board meeting Tuesday after the city attorney’s office reported that it didn’t meet requirements for a formal complaint against Bushee.
But the board is taking up the complaint that spurred Gonzales and Wurzburger to go after Bushee, filed with the ECRB earlier this month by Tarin Nix, who briefly served as Bushee’s campaign manager.
The board will meet on Dec. 16 to consider the “sufficiency” of the complaint by Nix.
The complaint centers around a $1,750 check Bushee gave Nix in June for campaign management services. Bushee, who at the time anticipated running a privately funded campaign, gave Nix a cashier’s check from personal funds. Bushee later decided to seek public financing and the city clerk has certified she can receive the $60,000 allowed for mayoral candidates.
Santa Fe’s public campaign finance code requires publicly financed candidates to swear under oath that they’ve made expenditures using private funding only from the seed money allowed to candidates for certain initial campaign expenses. Seed money is limited to $6,000 and individual seed money contributions must be no more than $100.
Nix said she got a call on Nov. 15 from a Bushee campaign worker asking her to “swap checks” so her June payment would be noted as coming from Bushee’s seed money account. Bushee ultimately reported the $1,750 expenditure to Nix as a November campaign expense.
Bushee has said that when she decided to switch gears from private to public financing, she was advised by an expert to reconcile the Nix expense by writing a second check to Nix out of seed money.
A new angle surfaced at Tuesday’s ethics board meeting when a woman said she was solicited by Bushee’s campaign in April and gave $200, which would be more than $100 allowed for a seed account.
Gonzales issued a statement after the meeting saying: “Today’s hearing brought new people coming forward affirming that only one candidate solicited private funds, spent private funds, and not only failed to disclose those actions but signed a sworn oath that contradicts the facts that have come to light.
“Patti Bushee can claim this is all about politics, but that is a distraction to avoid both transparency and responsibility.”
Bushee said later that Gonzales and Wurzburger had misfiled their own complaint and then withdrew it. “He knows not what he speaks of,” she said. “Let the process continue forward.”
She has said previously that, if there was any problem “resulting from the transition from a privately to publicly funded campaign, it was technical in nature” and that there was no intent to evade the rules. “Rules in the code for this situation do not exist,” Bushee said recently.
Her attorney Christopher Graeser said Tuesday the complaint doesn’t “state a violation” of the code.
Gonzales and Wurzburger said Tuesday they were willing to withdraw their own complaint – which was called a publicity stunt Tuesday by Bushee supporter and former City Councilor Steven Farber – since the ethics board is moving to deal with the issues raised by Nix.
Also Tuesday, Common Cause New Mexico issued a statement clarifying that the advocacy group isn’t working “with any particular candidate.” Common Cause chair Jim Harrington advised Bushee in November to reconcile the Nix expense by writing Nix a new check out of Bushee’s seed money.
Director Viki Harrison said Common Cause offers advice to all candidates.
“Our interest in the mayoral and City Council races in Santa Fe is to make sure public financing works in Santa Fe during the mayoral debut of the system,” Harrison said.
• In other election news, Jeff Green, a candidate for the open District 2 Santa Fe City Council seat, has filed a complaint against opponent Joseph Maestas, alleging Maestas filed an incomplete seed money report, may have exceeded the $1,500 in seed money spending allowed for council candidates seeking public financing and may have spent from a source other than seed money.
Green’s complaint centers around Maestas signs made by Focus Ink of Albuquerque. Maestas said Tuesday the signs and other expenses totaling around $600 were not included in his recent report.
Maestas said his campaign manager, who handled the invoices, hadn’t billed his campaign for the signs and other expenses at the time he filed a campaign finance report. He said that, in retrospect, he should have included all expenses in his report regardless and the expenses should have been billed directly to his campaign instead of his campaign manager.
“This is a lesson learned and I take full responsibility. I look forward to continuing our full and transparent participation in the public finance program,” he said.