When news broke last week that a labor union was paying its members to vouch for publicly-funded candidates in the upcoming Santa Fe city election, clean election advocates cried foul.

Jim Harrington, Common Cause New Mexico's state chair, quickly denounced the practice as "spending private money on public campaigns when the purpose was to get private money out of the election."

But whether such a practice violates the city's public finance code is another question. A quick refresher: the Northern New Mexico Central Labor Council (CLC), an umbrella organization of local labor unions, is offering to pay its members $11-per-hour stipends to canvass and phone bank other union members to support CLC-endorsed candidates.

These candidates include Javier Gonzales for mayor and Michael Segura, Joseph Maestas and Carmichael Dominguez for city council—all of whom have qualified for and taken money under the city's public campaign finance system.

Though public financing is supposed to limit candidates to spending a certain amount of taxpayer dollars ($60,000 for mayoral candidates and $15,000 for city council candidates), they can still be indirectly supported through outside channels.

"They have a legal right to be there and we can't change that," says Common Cause New Mexico Executive Director Viki Harrison.

But there's one silver lining— in some cases, outside spending must be reported to the city clerk. The campaign code would require the CLC labor organization to file public reports if it spends more than $250 on campaign materials, defined as "any published communication, electronic or otherwise" distributed to more than 100 people.

CLC president Mike Archuleta says his canvassers will be distributing written letters that explain why the labor organization is endorsing its favored candidates in the city races.
(Joey Peters)