Dinelli: Reform City's Public Campaign Finance Laws

Review of the 2017 campaign finance reports for Mayor filed with the City Clerk reveals serious flaws exist in the City’s public finance laws.

(Photo: Pete Dinelli)

The review confirms just how measured finance committees and big money donations are undercutting the spirit and intent of Albuquerque’ public financing system.

Out of 16 candidates initially running for Mayor, Democrat Tim Keller was the only candidate that was able to qualify for public financing while eight (8) other candidates tried and failed to qualify for public financing with half dropping out of the race.

QUALIFYING DONATIONS AND NOMINATING PETITIONS

All candidates for Mayor are given three months to collect nominating petition signatures from registered voters and only eight (8) secured the required number of signatures.

Collecting the $5 qualifying donations is extremely difficult because candidates are only give six weeks to collect the donations yet are given far more time to collect the nominating petition signatures.

Theoretically, a candidate for Mayor could gather the required number of qualifying donations and yet fail to collect the required number of nominating petition signatures.

It makes no sense giving more than double the time to collect signatures and just six weeks to collect $5 qualifying donations.

The Keller campaign was required to collect 3,000 qualifying cash donations of $5 to the City of Albuquerque from Albuquerque registered voters over a six-week period, which is a daunting and very difficult task for anyone.

If a candidate seeking public financing donations does not secure the 3,000 qualifying $5 donations, all the money reverts to the city and not kept by the candidate that collected the donations.

Candidates that decide to go with private financing as well as measured finance committees for candidates can solicit unlimited cash donations from any source including out of city and state contributions.

With public financing, paper receipts had to and issue and copies of paper receipts and the cash was turned into city hall.

Once qualified, the Keller for Mayor campaign was given $506,254 in public financing.

KELLER’S $1.35 MILLION CAMPAIGN FOR MAYOR

Notwithstanding being a public finance candidate, Keller had three (3) measured finance committees that either raised money directly to spend on his behalf or that indirectly spent money and supported him financially.

ABQ Forward Together was a measured finance committee that was formed specifically to raise money to promote Tim Keller for Mayor and it raised over $663,000 for Keller.

$1,358,254 was actually spent on Tim Keller’s successful campaign for Mayor ($506,254 public finance money + $663,000 ABQ Forward + $67,000 ABQFIREPAC + $122,000 ABQ Working Families = $1,358,254.)

Republican Dan Lewis raised more than $847,000 in cash contributions for the October election and the November Mayoral runoff election.

Democrat Brian Colón raised and spent nearly $824,000 for his unsuccessful mayoral run.

Republican Wayne Johnson privately raised and spent approximately $250,000.

Republican Ricardo Chavez finance his own campaign by contributing and loaning his campaign $1 million dollars, but when he dropped out of the race all of the money was repaid to him after he spent approximately $200,000.

The remaining three (3) candidates for Mayor raised and spent less than $50,000 combined after failing to qualify for public financing.

PROPOSED CHANGES TO PUBLIC FINANCE

Public finance laws should not be set up to make it too difficult to qualify for public financing.

Following are recommendations for changes to the City’s public finance and election laws that are in order:

1. Allow four (4) months and two (2) weeks, from January 1 to May 15, to collected both the qualifying donations and petition signatures, and private campaign donation collection.

2. Allow the collection of the qualifying donations from anyone who wants, and not just residents or registered voters of Albuquerque. Privately finance candidates now can collect donations from anyone they want and anywhere in the State and Country.

3. Once the allowed number of qualifying donations is collected, the public financing would be made immediately available, but not allowed to be spent until starting May 15.

4. Permit campaign spending for both publicly financed and privately financed candidates only from May 15 to the October election day.

5. Return to candidates for their use in their campaign any qualifying donations the candidate has collected when the candidate fails to secure the required number of qualifying donations to get the public financing.

6. Mandate the City Clerk to issue debit card or credit card collection devices to collect the qualifying donations and to issue receipts and eliminate the mandatory use of “paper receipts”.

7. Increase from $1.00 to $2.50 per registered voter the amount of public financing, which will be approximately $900,000, and allow for incremental increases of 10% every election cycle keeping up with inflation.

8. Allow for additional matching public financing available for run offs at the rate of $1.25 per registered voter, or $450,000.

9. Albuquerque should make every effort to make municipal elections partisan elections to be held along with State and Federal elections by seeking a constitutional amendment from the legislature to be voted upon by the public.

10. Any money raised and spent by measured finance committees on behalf a candidate should be required to first be applied to reimburse the City for any taxpayer money advanced to a public finance candidate or deducted from a publicly financed candidates account and returned to the city.

Every effort should be made to make Albuquerque’s public financing laws for municipal elections to legally provide for a “dollar for dollar” match to privately raised funds by candidates, thereby providing a real level playing field.

CONCLUSION

The influence of big money in elections allowed by the US Supreme Court decision in Citizens United is destroying our democracy.

Many highly qualified candidates for office all too often do not bother to run because of the inability or difficulty raising the necessary money to run.

Political campaign fundraising and big money influence are warping our election process.

Money spent becomes equated with the final vote.

Money drives the message, affects voter turnout and ultimately the outcome of an election.

Albuquerque municipal elections need campaign finance reform and enforcement.

2018 should be the year the Albuquerque City Council and the Mayor take action on campaign finance reform in anticipation of the 2019 municipal election.

Independent Journalism

I've been a reporter, writer and editor for 37 years. I'm dedicated to honest, fair and hard-hitting reporting. I'm not conservative or liberal, but am just a reporter who tries to get to the truth at any given point in time. I don't believe in pulling punches or being a lap dog because that serves no one. A free and aggressive press is essential to human liberty. That's why the Founding Fathers put a free press in the Constitution. So on this site you'll get a variety of news, fearless opinion, analysis, humor, satire and commentary. It's kind of like a free-for-all. My motto is "Without fear and without favor."  But good journalism takes time and money, so I hope you will contribute what you can to these efforts by clicking on the "Donate" button above. I could use your help. Thanks, Dennis Domrzalski.

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