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Gonzales campaign financing remains in limbo - Albuquerque Journal

Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

With Albuquerque’s mayoral election now less than three months away, questions continue swirling about how Sheriff Manuel Gonzales will fund his run.

Gonzales is still pursuing taxpayer campaign support, but his financing fate is currently in the hands of a state district court judge, as Gonzales is seeking to overturn the Albuquerque city clerk’s July decision to deny him more than $600,000 in public campaign money. Should his appeal fail, he would have to shift to raising private donations.

His campaign has asked the court for an expedited oral argument and decision, noting the urgency.

“Whether the Sheriff gets the public financing that the voters earned for him, or even more so if he has to privately fundraise, the election is on November 2nd, and whichever road will be taken must be embarked upon now,” campaign attorney Carter B. Harrison wrote in a motion filed Monday in 2nd Judicial District Court in Albuquerque.

Gonzales said Tuesday he is hopeful the judge will rule in the next two weeks, acknowledging the uncertainty has strained his campaign team.

“We’re trying to be as patient as we possibly can, (but) it’s like we’ve only got so many days left before this election,” Gonzales said in a brief interview Tuesday following a speech to a supportive business association crowd in Albuquerque.

Gonzales’ appeal – filed on July 19 – inched forward this week when the New Mexico Supreme Court assigned a judge to preside over it. The Supreme Court had to make the assignment after all judges in the Albuquerque-based 2nd District where Gonzales filed his appeal were recused.

Gonzales’ ongoing funding fight already helped lure another candidate into the mayor’s race. Conservative radio host Eddy Aragon said last week that Gonzales’ campaign “foibles” enticed him to enter the race last month, calling Gonzales a “nonentity” who lacked the wherewithal to mount a challenge against incumbent Tim Keller.

The sheriff’s fight over public campaign financing began last month when City Clerk Ethan Watson rejected Gonzales’ application for the public money, citing evidence presented in two ethics complaints Keller’s reelection campaign had filed against Gonzales. They alleged that Gonzales and campaign representatives violated regulations while trying to qualify for public financing, specifically in the collection of the $5 “qualifying contributions” candidates must get from at least 3,779 city voters to prove their viability.

Gonzales has denied claims that he told a voter that his campaign would cover the voter’s $5 contribution. The campaign has, however, acknowledged submitting $5 contribution receipts with forged voter signatures.

The city of Albuquerque’s Office of Inspector General – an accountability office that operates independent of the mayor – recently completed an investigation into the allegations, interviewing voters identified on a random sample of 239 qualifying contribution receipts Gonzales’ campaign submitted. Almost 16% in the random sample told investigators they never signed a qualifying contribution form and never gave $5 to the effort, or that they signed the receipt but never actually contributed $5. Gonzales was the collector of record in four instances where the voter said they signed the receipt but never paid, according to the OIG report.

Asked Tuesday about the OIG findings that his campaign had run afoul of public financing regulations, Gonzales said the city was not treating him fairly, calling it a “lopsided situation.”

Gonzales said he did not think the campaign financing limbo was hurting his chances to win, disputing Aragon’s assessment that he was no longer a factor in the race.

The sheriff said he is prepared to start privately fundraising if necessary, citing the positive response he received during Tuesday’s speech before the local chapter of NAIOP, the commercial real estate development organization.

Gonzales gave a brief speech and fielded questions from the audience, some of whom used the opportunity to praise Gonzales. The sheriff told the crowd that as mayor he had plans to consolidate the Albuquerque Police Department and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office. He weighed in on the city’s potential new multipurpose soccer stadium, saying he thinks it would be a good fit near the Amazon fulfillment center (opening soon at Interstate 40 and Atrisco Vista Boulevard) but that he would prefer putting a location question out to voters. Asked how he would address homelessness, Gonzales said the city should enforce “public order” policies against people sleeping in public who do not want to enter shelters or seek other services and that city councilors should be able to create ordinances to prevent seeing shopping carts on every corner.

“I know Mayor (Richard) Berry had the ART (bus) project; I’m just feeling like this administration has the cart project,” Gonzales said to laughter and applause.