Keller campaign accused of fraud
By Dennis Domrzalski
Mayor Tim Keller's reelection campaign now stands accused of the same kind of fraud it has accused Keller's opponent of engaging in: telling people that campaign workers would cover the $5 donations needed for candidates to qualify for $600,000 in public financing.
But the person accused of violating the city's campaign rules is not a low-level grunt making seven bucks an hour, it's Justin Cheney, president of the firefighters union. According to a complaint filed Thursday with the city's ethics commission, Cheney showed up recently at a fire station to gather $5 contributions for Keller. He allegedly told the station's crew that he would pay the $5 contribution if they signed the form.
The complaint was filed by Jason Katz, chairman of the Retired Law Enforcement Officers Measure Finance Committee, which is backing Keller's opponent, Sheriff Manny Gonzales. Katz has asked that City Clerk Ethan Watson revoke the $600,000 in public funding he has approved for Keller. Watson initially approved public funding for Gonzales, but revoked it after Keller's campaign filed ethics complaints alleging donation card fraud by Gonzales's campaign. Katz said Watson should treat the campaigns equally.
"“As a retired law enforcement officer, I know it is incumbent to everyone that the law has to be applied to everyone equally. Not doing so destroys the entire system. In a time when the political system seems to be one of the least trusted institutions around, we need to make sure the rules and laws are applied evenly regardless of affiliation," Katz said in a news release.
“The City Clerk must maintain consistency and apply his recently applied reasoning to the Keller campaign. In addition to the new credible and fraudulent revelations, Mayor Keller and his campaign have a history of this behavior when the City Ethics Board ruled unanimously that he violated the City Charter’s Open and Ethical Elections Code when he ran for mayor in 2017. If the City Clerk is to remain fair and impartial, he needs to apply the same reasoning to revoke the Keller campaign of its public funding as he did to Sheriff Gonzales.
Firefighter Shawn McDonald signed an affidavit that contained the allegations of fraud by Keller's campaign. Here's what the affidavit said:
“While on duty with the Albuquerque Fire Department on June 1, 2021 the Albuquerque Fire Rescue Union President (IAFF Local 244) visited the station and discussed contract matters, negotiations, and the mayoral election. The Union President asked people to sign Keller’s $5 donation cards. One of the members asked him, ‘What is this $5 deal? You didn’t say anything about five bucks.’ In response the Union President told everyone at the meeting, ‘I got that, don’t worry about it. It’s too hard for me to go around and ask people to sign this and donate five dollars. I only have three books. It’s a hundred and fifty bucks, and I’m going to cover it for all the guys who want to sign it.”
Katz's news release went on to say:
"The firefighter spoke up and told everyone at the meeting that 'You’re not allowed to do that.' As a result of this fraud perpetrated by a City of Albuquerque employee and union boss working for Tim Keller’s campaign on City time, soliciting other city employees on City time and property, the Retired Law Enforcement Officers PAC has filed a formal complaint against Tim Keller’s campaign. The complaint requests that Tim Keller appointee Ethan Watson, the City Clerk, revoke Tim Keller’s public financing for the same reasoning he used to revoke Sheriff Gonzales’ public financing."