ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Albuquerque mayoral candidate Manny Gonzales’ campaign is making its case to overturn a decision denying his candidacy access to the city’s public campaign financing. The appeal was argued in a marathon hearing Thursday in front of a City of Albuquerque hearing examiner.
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Attorneys for Gonzales’ campaign and the Albuquerque City Clerk’s Office spent nearly seven hours arguing the case, stemming from the Albuquerque City Clerk’s Office’s recent decision denying Gonzales’ campaign access to more than $661,000 in public financing. That decision was made shortly after Gonzales’ campaign was accused of multiple allegations of fraud, related to forged signatures.
According to city rules, Gonzales’ campaign was required to receive signatures and five-dollar “qualifying contributions” from 3,779 Albuquerque city voters in order to get access to the city’s pool of public campaign financing. Sheriff Gonzales has been accused by Mayor Tim Keller’s campaign of forging nearly 150 public donor signatures.
During Thursday’s hearing, Gonzales’ campaign in part argued that denying him access to public financing based on some fraud allegations is too harsh. The campaign also argued the Clerk’s decision all be assured Gonzales’ candidacy will fail.
“What we don’t need is the government putting its thumb on the scale and making the determination for the voters who can be a viable candidate and who can’t,” said Carter Harrison, attorney for Manny Gonzales’ campaign.
Attorney’s for the Albuquerque City Clerk’s Office argued Thursday that it is within the office’s authority to deny Gonzales the funding, regardless of if the number of legal contributions outweighs the fraudulent ones. “It was Mr. Gonzales’ burden to comply with the Open and Ethical Elections Code and as we will show, he did not do so and the appeal should be denied,” said Matt Jackson, an attorney for the Albuquerque City Clerk’s Office.
Last week, Sheriff Gonzales received a letter from the Albuquerque City Clerk’s office stating it found one five-dollar contribution to Gonzales’ campaign to be fraudulent. Gonzales says this was an innocent administrative mistake. The city clerk has now given the ethics complaint to the city’s attorney for further investigation.
“This accumulation of documentation gave me significant concerns that I didn’t feel I could affirmatively make the certification,” said Ethan Watson, city clerk for the City of Albuquerque. “The decision by the clerk to certify or not certify is a different process from a complaint filed before the Board of Ethics.”
Gonzales’ attorney also pointed out that the city clerk was appointed by Mayor Keller. Gonzales was called as a witness, saying volunteers and paid staff are assigned to make sure the qualified contribution forms were correctly signed.
“There’s a lot of volunteers and when they come in, they’re very emphatic about trying to want to help out and be motivated,” said Gonzales. “But they don’t always understand everything about the process.”
No decision was made at the end of Thursday’s hearing. The presiding hearing officer is required to make a decision by Tuesday, July 20. On Friday morning, the city’s Board of Ethics will also look into the fraud allegations against Gonzales.