ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – With less than two weeks to the 2021 mayoral election, candidates are competing — and spending — to attract voters. So far, more than $1 million in campaign funds have been contributed to the four running candidates, campaign finance records show.
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The latest reports show Manuel Gonzales III has the most cash on hand, with $244,219 ready to spend after a large influx of contributions in September. Tim Keller is close behind with $148,271 he can spend. Eddy Aragon only has $10,040 on hand after recently spending over $30,000. Patrick Ben Sais only has $35.00 as of October 15.
Keller is the only running candidate who has received public funding. This means he’s entitled to spend a total of $661,309.25 provided by the City of Albuquerque. He can’t spend more than that, according to the city charter, nor can Keller collect private donations to use on his campaign.
Gonzales applied for public funds, but was denied the money back in July. The city clerk found evidence of fraud in Gonzales’ roll of qualifying contributions — the list of donation that a candidate must receive to be qualified for the hundreds of thousands of public dollars.
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Gonzales has the largest sum of private funding, but Keller has access to more than $600,000 in public funding. Data from CABQ.
Gonzales, Aragon, and Sais’ funds come from private donations. Privately financed candidates have no limit to the total amount of funds they can raise and spend. But there is a limit on how much any individual or business can donate to a privately financed candidate. This year, that limit is $6250.40 — equivalent to 5% of the Mayor’s base salary.
Gonzales has the highest average contribution rate, finance records show. Most of his funds come from individual donors. That’s nearly $360,000. A good portion of his funds come from self-reported businesses and business owners, retired locals, and law enforcement employees. Self-identified teachers and automotive industry workers also contributed notable sums, the data shows.
All the candidates are spending the largest portion of their funds on advertising, the data shows. This last summer, Gonzales was spending more on advertising than any other candidate. But in September, Keller started putting money towards things like a website, a vehicle for the state fair parade, and a nearly $36,000 film shoot. So far, he’s spent more on getting his name out there than the other three candidates combined.
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Keller has out spent all the other mayoral candidates when it comes to advertising. Data from CABQ.
“You need a lot of campaign cash on hand down the final stretch, mainly to continue to push your messaging, your name recognition. And a lot of that, obviously, is TV ads,” explains KRQE Political Analyst Gabe Sanchez. “So the more money you have for that, obviously the better you feel your chances are going to be.”
But spending more money doesn’t guarantee a win. Heather Ferguson, the executive director of Common Cause NM, a nonpartisan nonprofit focused on government access and accountability, points out that in past elections, the win didn’t always go to the candidate with the largest purse. In 2001, for example, Richard Homans spent $593,349 in his run for Albuquerque mayor, which was more than any other candidate, according to an analysis done by Common Cause NM. Still, Homans lost to Martin Chávez.
“I don’t think that more money spent by a campaign automatically equals more votes,” Ferguson says. “As they say, ‘yard signs don’t vote.'”
This election cycle, the candidates are also spending a relatively large portion of their money on consulting. Keller has spent over $130,000 on consultations and similar professional services, the finance reports show. Gonzales has spent more than $24,000 on consulting. Aragon has spent over $16,000 on consultation.
Most of the candidates’ spending has gone to in-state businesses. But some funds do flow out of the state. While Keller has spent over $147,000 in New Mexico, he’s also spent $260,858 for advertising services provided by a Washington D.C.-based firm. Gonzales has spent more than $213,900 locally, but has also spent over $13,000 in California, for consultation services. Aragon has spent over $95,700 in New Mexico, but also spent a little over $2,600 on Florida-based consultation. Consultation and campaign management are a key to success, Political Analyst Sanchez says.
“Part of the advantage of when you’re a strong candidate, [is] you tend to have a better pick of campaign managers,” Sanchez explains. “That’s one of the reasons why early money — having campaign money early — is generally highly correlated with winning. Because that allows you to lock up the best professional expertise.”
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Keller had the most early money, but Gonzales caught up by May. Keller, of course, received his public funding by July, putting him ahead. Data from CABQ.
While a lot of money has flowed into the mayor’s race, even more money has gone to measure finance committees this year. So far, more than $1.8 million have been contributed. Some of the 14 different committees, such as Build Back ‘Burque, which has nearly $240,000 in contributions, are backing mayoral candidates. Others are intended to drive votes for ballot measures or bonds, such as the committee with the most funding: New Mexico United for All. The committee urging voters to support a new stadium has earned more than $800,000.
After the election on November 2, if the candidates haven’t spent all their money, they can apply the remaining funds towards a runoff, if the voters can’t choose a candidate by majority. In that case, Keller can use up to $226,734.60 for a runoff, while the other candidates can use whatever they’ve raised.
Once a candidate is chosen, Keller has to return any remaining funds to the city. The other candidates have a choice of what they do with any excess funds. They can return funds to the people that made the contributions, put the funds in the city’s General Fund, or give the funds to a charity.