The city's Ethics and Campaign Review Board plans to decide soon whether there is legal merit to a complaint against mayoral candidate Javier Gonzales.
The ECRB voted today to shorten the usual 10-day deadline for responses to seven days for Gonzales because of the fast-approaching March 4 election. Gonzales must give a formal response to the complaint by Monday, Feb. 24.
The wide-ranging complaint, filed last week by former ECRB chairman Fred Rowe, accuses the Gonzales campaign of wrongly coordinating with two PACs—Progressive Santa Fe and Working Families—as well as the American Federation of State, Municipal and County Employees and the union-funded Working America. All four organizations have supported Gonzales with outside spending.
After the board receives the answer from Gonzales, a future vote will be scheduled to determine whether the board will actually hear the case. That means if the board decides the case has merit, it's unlikely that it will issue a final decision until after the election.
Rowe, a supporter of mayoral candidate Patti Bushee, alleges that Gonzales and his outside PAC supporters have been coordinating, which is prohibited by the city public finance code. That charge has been denied by Gonzales and the PACs.
Last fall, Gonzales qualified for and took the $60,000 the city's public campaign financing allows for mayoral candidates. But as of Feb. 7, the four outside groups supporting Gonzales reported more than $20,000 in campaign spending. (That's despite a promise from at least one PAC official that she wouldn't spend money unless opposing outside groups did.)
Critics say this gives Gonzales an unfair advantage over opponents Bushee and Bill Dimas, who have both also received $60,000 in public money for their mayoral campaigns but haven't benefited from outside PAC spending.
Rowe cites how the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 480, a film union, shares its office at the same building where Gonzales campaign is headquartered. Jon Hendry, IATSE's business agent, at one point chaired the Progressive Santa Fe PAC.
Rowe says that the fact that both operate in the same building is suspect and enough to compel the board to subpoena Hendry.
"To claim that they do not talk with each other about this campaign is at the very least far-fetched." Rowe says.
Rowe's complaint also takes AFSCME to task for paying union members stipends to canvass and phone bank for Gonzales to other union members.
A law firm representing Hendry and AFSCME blasted Rowe's complaint as "beyond frivolous and harassing" in a statement today.
"Member to member communications are highly protected under the First Amendment's right of association, and have been upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States repeatedly," the AFSCME statement reads. "For an attorney and former chair of the Ethics and Campaign Review board to bring an allegation trying to conflate unpaid volunteering at the campaign with paid member to member communications is, we believe, an intentional abuse of process for political gain ... We look forward to investigating Rowe's connections with the Bushee campaign and pursuing any available remedies against Rowe for any wrongdoing related to his filing of these allegations."