I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
ABQ’s election fund will meet demand, officials say
ALBUQUERQUE — The condition of Albuquerque’s fund for publicly financed elections is not as dire as recent speculation in the mainstream media might suggest, city councilors and officials say.
The Albuquerque Journal reported recently that the city’s “ethical elections” fund will only have enough for “four wannabe mayors.” That article plus another one the next day both said that the fund holds about $1,400,000.
But the city actually has $1,537,000 in its fund for this year’s publicly financed campaigns, according to the city clerk’s office, and a city councilor has committed to adding more money to the fund in the event it runs out.
The fund is intended to finance a mayoral race and the bids for five city council seats. Mayoral candidates who qualify as of March 31 each get slightly more than $328,000 to run their campaigns on April 3, minus the seed money they’ve already gathered. That figure is based on $1 per registered voter in the city.
Or, if there isn’t enough money in the fund to give every qualified mayoral candidate that amount, then the existing pot of money is simply divided equally among them.
In order to qualify for public financing, mayoral candidates must gather roughly 3,280 $5 contributions and turn them in to the city clerk by March 31. In order to qualify for the October 6 ballot, candidates must also submit 6,500 petition signatures.
Currently, five candidates are gathering the $5 qualifying contributions to use public financing for a mayoral race: former state Senate President Pro Tem Richard Romero, city councilors Debbie O’Malley and Michael Cadigan, local activist Donna Rowe, and state Rep. Richard Berry, the only registered Republican in the field.
Mayor Martin Chavez is also gathering contributions but hasn’t officially announced his candidacy, and another person — James Thomas, a local businessman who owns a tree restoration company — may be getting in.
But it’s unlikely that all will qualify. KOB-TV Channel 4 reported this week that neither Rowe nor Thomas think they’ll be able to gather enough contributions to qualify.
If five qualify, the city would divide the pot evenly for about $307,400 each. If only four qualify, the city would pay out $1,312,000 minus seed money. This would leave about $225,000 to fund publicly financed city council candidates.
If the mayoral distribution does use all the money in the fund, the city council could choose to appropriate money to fund city council races, according to City Clerk Randy Autio. The distribution of funds for those races is scheduled to occur on June 1 — two months after the mayoral distribution.
City Councilor Rey Garduño told the Independent that if the fund is depleted before a distribution is made to qualified city council candidates, he’ll sponsor a measure to put more money into the fund.
“If it looks like that will happen, I’ll introduce a resolution to add money to the fund,” Garduño said. “Public financing is too important to the city for us to not be committed to making it work.”
Garduño said he thinks there will be enough money, however. “I feel very confident that we won’t run out of money based on raw numbers,” he said.
Publicly financed city council candidates, like mayoral candidates, get one dollar for every registered voter in their districts, or an equal division of the money in the fund.
The five odd-numbered council seats are up for election this year. Four of the five council districts have electorates ranging from 32,390 to 37,502 people. The outlier is District 5, which has 47,274.
It’s too soon to know how many will run for those seats. It’s conceivable that some current councilors will run unopposed, Garduño said, and there will be multiple candidates in others.
Once the new fiscal year starts on July 1, the fund gets a new infusion of cash automatically, which will be somewhere between $400,000 to $500,000, Autio said.