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…
Republican Party gets involved in ‘nonpartisan’ ABQ mayor’s race
Albuquerque’s municipal elections are supposed to be non-partisan, but in this year’s mayoral race, the Republican Party has supported one particular candidate, two-term State Rep. Richard Berry, R-Albuquerque.
The party has helped Berry with canvassing and volunteer labor, and Berry has used telephone lines and a copy machine at the state party headquarters, according to Berry campaign manager Dana Feldman.
“Any expenses incurred have been paid for by the campaign. The county party formed a measure finance committee to provide help with canvassing and volunteers for the qualification phase. The campaign reported that as an in-kind contribution,” Feldman wrote in an e-mail to the Independent.
While Albuquerque municipal elections are intended to be non-partisan, legally there is a gray area.
“[Nonpartisan] means we don’t go through the primary process [or] have party candidates on the ballot,” said Albuquerque’s city clerk, Randy Autio.
There is no law against participation by political parties. But if a party wants to work in support of or against a candidate, it must register as a measure finance committee, which is the city’s version of a political action committee, or PAC.
There is a measure finance committee registered for the Republican Party, called RPNM No New Taxes, according to Autio.
Autio says he has fielded some questions about whether the Republican party is working on behalf of Richard Berry and Daniel Lewis, who is challenging incumbent City Councilor Michael Cadigan for his west side seat, in an appropriate manner. But so far, no formal complaints have been filed with the Board of Ethics, Autio said.
The Albuquerque Journal editorialized against the GOP helping Berry, saying it violated the intent–if not the letter–of the law.
Autio said his office is looking into how Republican dollars have been spent through various measure finance committees to make sure everything is legit.
“People can claim their party affiliation as an asset of theirs and it can be used for or against them,” he said. “If you get a call from someone who says “vote for so and so, and he’s a Republican,” unless the party sponsored the calls and paid for them, it’s not the party doing it.”
GOP paid for polling about mayor’s race
In December 2008, the Republican Party funded a poll that included questions about the Albuquerque mayoral race.
The party gave State Senator John Ryan a $17,000 contribution and that same month, he commissioned a poll that included the mayor’s race. In Ryan’s words, it was “a question about the favorability of Marty Chavez and the name IDs for a handful of other local officials and politicians.”
Did that poll encourage Berry to join the race?
Feldman says no. Berry had not seen the results of Sen. Ryan’s poll, the poll did not inform his decision to run for mayor, she said. She also said that Berry was not recruited by the Republican Party to run for mayor.
Senator Ryan told the Independent that he did not share the results of the poll he conducted with Berry, but that the state Republican Party did see the results.
“I’m positive that I shared the issue questions with the party, as we were preparing for the [legislative] session,” Ryan said.
State Republican Party spokesperson Janel Causey said that she couldn’t be sure because at the time the state Republican Party was under the direction of a different administration, but that the results were “probably” shared with the party by Ryan.
According to Ryan, the poll was primarily about issues pertinent to the legislative session held a few months later, and that just one out of “about 40 questions” was about Mayor Martin Chavez’s favorability. The poll was conducted in his district because of the demographics, he said.
“One thing you have to remember is that my district is a swing district that looks similar to the state as a whole, demographically,” he said.
The Republican poll was conducted in the month preceding the cut-off date for spending money outside the public financing system, which all three candidates elected to use. They each received $328,000 in public funds to run their campaigns.
Publicly financed candidates are barred from spending additional funds as of January 1. But according to Autio, the law doesn’t address what funds are spent prior to that date.
On the other hand, he’s also said that “there’s a fixed amount of money that everyone should be spending,” and that the fair market value of some items should be reported.
“If you have something that was paid for through previous political activity, I think you’ll have to reflect that coming in by listing the fair market value of what the prior campaign gave to this campaign,” he said. “Using public financing, you can only do that through an in-kind donation.”