ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – On Wednesday, Sheriff Manny Gonzales had one more chance to explain why his mayoral campaign deserves public financing after he and his staff are accused of breaking the election rules. On Wednesday, Attorney Daniel Gallegos defended Gonzales and repeatedly called the hearing a “sham,” saying it’s unfair that the city clerk, who is part of his opponent’s administration, is the one who will hear their arguments and ultimately decide whether Gonzales gets public financing.
“The risk of bias here is too great to tolerate. The opportunity to be heard by a biased decision-maker falls well short of the promise of the due process clause. And basically what we have is a sham,” said Gallegos.
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In order to get public financing, a candidate must turn in a certain number of signatures from voters who also contribute $5 each to the campaign. City attorneys accused Gonzales of taking part in or knowing of the forgery of some signatures. They also argued that even if some of the forged signatures came from campaign representatives, Gonzales agreed to take responsibility for campaign workers and their actions when signing documents to run for mayor.
“While some of these receipts appeared to be gathered by individuals or volunteers, many were gathered by you personally or by campaign representatives,” said Kevin Morrow, the city’s acting deputy attorney.
Gonzales’ attorney countered that. “It is true that the campaign has conceded that some but certainly not all of the alleged problematic contribution sheets appeared to be signed by someone other than the contributor. But the campaign has never conceded how many and has never, not once, have conceded that Sheriff Gonzales knew or should have known of these problematic qualifying contribution sheets,” Gallegos said.
The sheriff’s team also pointed out that even with the questionable signatures, he still turned in about 400 more clerk-certified signatures than needed to receive public funding. It was Keller’s campaign that first raised the issue of the forged signatures but the city Office of the Inspector General conducted its own investigation and in a random sample found at least 23 instances of people who say they didn’t sign the form or pay the five dollars. It also found an additional 15 people signed the form but did not pay.
Gallegos says many of the findings in the IG’s report were based on “untested hearsay.”
Last week a judge ruled that Gonzales was not afforded due process before the city clerk denied him more than $600,000. The clerk’s decision was based on claims the campaign submitted forged voter signatures and put up donations that were supposed to come from voters. Gonzales’ attorneys argue it was a mistake but the City of Albuquerque’s Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices rules Gonzales violated campaign rules. They fined him $500 in a unanimous ruling.
City Clerk Ethan Watson says he accepts that’s board’s finding and the evidence of fraudulent signatures but to comply with the judge’s order. A decision is expected on Thursday.
Sheriff Gonzales is now calling on the state supreme court to intervene. On Wednesday, he filed a petition asking the state supreme court to order the district court to reverse the city clerk’s decision and grant his campaign the public financing.