The group behind the mailers, Protest ABQ, had been accused of failing to register as a political committee with the city – a process that requires disclosing campaign spending, donations and other activity.
The fliers targeted Pat Davis, a Democrat who ultimately won election to succeed Councilor Rey Garduño.
The ethics board voted 4-0 to impose a $1,000 fine and issue a public reprimand. The group is still crafting a written opinion with its specific findings.
Angelo Artuso, an attorney for Protest ABQ and others named in the complaint, said he will file an appeal in court.
He argued Thursday that there was no evidence presented to the board proving that the mailers cost more than $250 – the threshold that triggers registration with the city. Artuso also said the rules themselves violate his clients’ First Amendment rights.
After the board voted, Artuso put it this way: “They got it wrong.”
Sara Berger, an attorney for Alex Curtas, the man who filed the complaint, said an important principle was at stake – the public’s right to know who’s behind the campaigns for or against a candidate.
“We’re trying to seek transparency in elections,” she said after the hearing. “It’s important to know who the players are in elections.”
Davis, executive director of ProgressNow New Mexico, a left-leaning advocacy group, was targeted with graphic anti-abortion advertisements this fall.
The mailer called Davis “too extreme” for the district.
Albuquerque city government has little to do with abortion. But Davis had been involved in a 2013 campaign that opposed a ballot measure proposing to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Curtas, who filed the complaint, works with Davis at ProgressNow.
His complaint names Protest ABQ and two of its activists, Bud and Tara Shaver.
The ethics board, an appointed body, deliberated behind closed doors before taking action in public. Voting in favor of a fine and reprimand were ethics board members Andrew Schultz, Rex Throckmorton, Gary Van Luchene and Gerges Scott.