By Sterling Fluharty
—Volunteers are going door to door, cash is flowing, and debates are erupting: Albuquerque’s mayoral race is well underway.
Democratic mayoral candidate Pete Dinelli managed to obtain the sometimes elusive public financing. On Monday, April 1, his camp submitted a couple of thousand $5 contributions and around 5,000 petition signatures. (See the previous New Mexico Compass story on how his collection efforts went down to the wire.)
The City Treasury transferred about $355,000 into Dinelli’s campaign bank account mid-week. County Clerk Amy Bailey deducted almost $7,000 in seed money raised over the last few months. No other mayoral candidate qualified for the public money.
Republican Mayor Richard Berry is foregoing public financing this time around and is instead raising private funds. But he, too, has to collect 3,000 signatures by Sunday, April 28, to get on the ballot. His campaign already submitted 5,600 petition signatures. Volunteers have collected another 400 signatures, said Campaign Manager Tito Madrid.
Filling the War Chest
Dinelli said the public financing system allows voters to hold elected officials accountable. “You will not see Pete Dinelli going out asking for $1,000, $2,000 or $5,000 donations from individuals,” he said.
On Wednesday evening, Berry attended a reception at the Country Club. People paid between $500 and $,1000 to get in, and proceeds went to the mayor’s campaign. Berry had another fundraiser on Monday, April 8. His campaign received donations from a luncheon at Emcore in Albuquerque, where attendees again paid $500 or $1,000. The flier for this event reminds individuals they can donate as much as $5,192—that’s 5 percent of the mayor’s annual salary and the contribution limit set by the City Charter
Berry’s also banking on his popularity. At a Bernalillo County GOP gathering on Saturday, Berry said polls “show us north of 70 percent in approval ratings from the citizens.”
Dinelli cannot raise or receive any more money. He said he accepts the limitations imposed by the system. Still, he added, “for anyone to say that public financing does not work, they’re dead wrong.”
As a side note, Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed SB 16 on Friday, April 5. This measure would have made matching funds available to some candidates in state-level races after their opponents had outraised them. Instead, matching funds are unavailable at both the state and municipal levels.
The Union Threat
Jon Hendry is the New Mexico Federation of Labor president. He said Republicans are probably congratulating themselves for running against a publicly financed candidate. Mayor Martin Chavez set the bar for Berry and raised $1.1 million—triple what’s available through public financing—for his re-election bid in 2005. “They can raise all they want, but labor’s not going to back off on this one,” Hendry said
It’s nonsense for the GOP to think it can purchase a win, he added. “Richard Berry is not going to buy this race,” Hendry said. “I will make that commitment to the people of Albuquerque that our voice is going to be heard. The Republicans can do all the fundraisers they want, but we’ll step up right along with them.”
Hendry said 2013 will be an important election for labor. “The firefighters will be walking with the cops. The plumbers will be walking with the teamsters. The teachers will be walking with the educational associates,” he said. “We’re not to let this one go by. Labor’s going to be united.”
Connecting With the Grassroots
Margaret Aragon de Chavez, another Democratic mayoral contender, said she collected all of her $5 contributions with volunteers. She didn’t gather anywhere near enough to qualify for public financing. Aragon de Chavez contrasted that experience with the paid staff on Dinelli’s team.
After convincing nearly 5,000 city voters to donate $5, Dinelli said the efforts and accomplishments of his paid team (and volunteers) “really reflect a strong grassroots approach to this campaign.” He’s gaining momentum: Democrats appeared united for Dinelli at the county party meeting last month.
Berry’s campaign has collected twice the number of required petition signatures to get on the ballot. “They’re coming from neighborhood residents, people heading to church, people heading to social events, people going to restaurants,” Madrid said. “So it’s a broad representation of the city who are gathering signatures on his behalf, and it’s all-volunteer.”
Berry emphasized that kind of work at the Republican County meeting. “We have to get back to a solid grassroots organization,” he said.
The city’s Election Code requires candidates to make sure copies of all campaign materials are “promptly filed” with the Board of Ethics. These mailers, advertisements, handbills, petitions, electronic communications or scripts for TV, radio and telephone communications, should be submitted to Bailey’s office, put in files and made available for public inspection.
Candidate Paul Heh has filed a few campaign logos. The file for Aragon de Chavez contained no campaign materials. Dinelli’s file included logos on signs, canvass fliers, as well as radio and phone scripts—but nothing from his website. Berry put a copy of one campaign sign in his file, but invitations and fliers for his recent fundraisers were missing. “It is entirely possible that some candidates have not yet printed or distributed campaign materials, which could explain the absence of such from our file,” Bailey explained in an email.
Each candidate should have also signed a form indicating they will contact Bailey to schedule and attend training for the campaign finance website. Candidates or their representatives must receive this training before they can submit their required campaign finance reports online.
Training happened for Dinelli on Jan. 11, Heh on Feb. 11, and Aragon de Chavez on Feb. 13. Berry (whose next report is due April 15) signed the top half of his form to indicate he would schedule a session but left blank the bottom half, which indicates completion of training. “I believe representatives from the campaign have already trained,” Bailey said. “If the paperwork was not in the file, I imagine that we have not had time to catch up on filing with other activity in the office.”