One thing's for certain—mayoral candidate Patti Bushee will be able to spend public money on her campaign for the time being.
Next Monday at 4pm, the city's Ethics and Campaign Review Board will discuss a complaint against Bushee's campaign filed last month by her former campaign manager Tarin Nix. In the complaint, Nix alleges that Bushee violated the city's public campaign finance code when the candidate asked her in November to swap a check for work Nix did during the summer.
In a nutshell, Nix's complaint says Bushee raised over the $100 seed money personal contribution limit required for public financing by paying Nix $1,750 in June. In a response asking the ECRB board to reject the complaint, Bushee's campaign wrote that the personal check paid to Nix was nothing more than a "stopgap measure" made before the campaign decided to seek out public financing.
"Ms. Nix demanded payment before the seed money account was founded and before the decision to use public financing," Bushee's response reads. "Under those unique circumstances, Candidate Bushee had no option but to advance those funds personally."
Walt Borton, the deputy chair of Bushee's campaign, says that the first check came out of Bushee's personal bank account at a time when the campaign hadn't raised much money. In November, after Bushee decided to seek public financing, her campaign wrote another check of the same amount to Nix, this time coming from the campaign seed money account.
Borton says the public finance code prevents candidates from taking loans from the campaign, so it couldn't simply pay Bushee back $1,750 from her seed money account. Instead, the campaign wrote the second check to Nix based on recommendations from Common Cause New Mexico, a nonprofit that advocates for publicly-financed campaigns.
"By writing the second check, we absorbed from the seed money the campaign expense for Tarin," Borton says.
Borton maintains the second check was "an attempt at clarity."
Whether that violates the city campaign code is another question. One of Bushee's mayoral opponents, Javier Gonzales, last week filed a petition with former mayoral candidate Rebecca Wurzburger asking the city clerk to reverse Bushee's public financing and the ECRB to quickly hear Nix' complaint.
Bushee officially qualified for public financing last week.
At an ECRB hearing on Tuesday, Gonzales and Wurzburger withdrew their petition when it became clear that their letter wasn't properly filed according to ECRB standards. Wurzburger says she was compelled to file the letter last week when the city clerk told her the ECRB hadn't yet scheduled a time to weigh in Nix' complaint.
"So I said, 'You mean that we’re releasing the money?'" Wurzburger says, referring to the $60,000 in public funding that Bushee qualified for. "And they said yes. And that didn’t feel right to me, not having a date, not knowing."
Wurzburger says that the complaint can't wait since election is fast approaching and that Bushee already picked up her public money last week. Still, Bushee has criticized Gonzales and Wurzburger's petition as politically motivated. Wurzburger dropped out of the mayoral race over the weekend after failing to qualify for public financing. Since then, she's endorsed Gonzales.
Gonzales denies that politics have anything to do with his and Wurzburger's petition.
"This is about transparency,"
Gonzales says. "It's about protecting the integrity of the public financing system."
Bushee's response to Nix's complaint also raises the question of when a candidate officially becomes a candidate. In it, she writes that the city code does not cover an expenditure "made by a candidate individually before certification." Bushee announced her candidacy for mayor in May, but she didn't officially qualify for the city ballot until November.
Meanwhile, a similar public finance complaint was filed to the ECRB yesterday against City Council District 2 candidate Joseph Maestas. In it, opponent Jeff Green alleges that Maestas didn't disclose payments his campaign made for campaign signs displayed at the Santa Fe Fiesa in September.
Read Bushee's response to Nix' complaint below: