In a 4-0 decision, the city's Ethics and Campaign Review Board dismissed a complaint filed against mayoral candidate and city Councilor Patti Bushee.
The ERCB dismissed the complaint based on ruling that the public finance code does not address the type of payment Bushee made over the summer to former campaign manager Tarin Nix. Board member and attorney Paul Biderman recused himself from the vote, citing contracts that he receives from the city as a conflict of interest. Board member Tara Lujan did not attend the meeting.
"It's clear that nothing in the code addresses this situation," Bushee says. "I'm grateful that the political theater, at least in relation to this one effort, is over."
Nix, who worked on Bushee's campaign for only a few weeks during the summer, filed the complaint to the ECRB against Bushee last month. It stems from a $1,750 check Bushee wrote to Nix over the summer to cover for her campaign work.
Since then, Bushee's campaign decided to seek public financing, which under the city's code limits her to raising $100 per personal donation in "seed" money for no more than $6,000 total, which can be used before a candidate becomes certified for public financing. Nix alleged that Bushee's check to her violated the city's public finance code because it added up to more than $100 in her personal money.
But Bushee's campaign last month sent Nix another $1,750 check for the same work, this time out of the seed money fund. This came from recommendations from Common Cause New Mexico, a nonprofit that advocates for publicly-funded campaigns.
In a statement, mayoral candidate Javier Gonzales, who two weeks ago urged the board to reverse Bushee's public financing and hear the complaint, argued that the board's decision was because of a "hole" in the city's finance code that caused the board's "inability to enforce both the letter and the spirit of the public finance system."
"While professing publicly to embrace the public finance system, [Bushee] secretly engaged in a private fundraising campaign," Gonzales writes in the statement. "By signing a sworn oath to the contrary brought upon herself a cloud of doubt over her credibility and the value of her word."
Jim Harrington, Common Cause's state chair, says he advised Bushee to write the second check to come out of her seed money to "rectify" the expenditure "before the critical moment of filing the application" for public financing.
He adds that the point of the law is to prevent a candidate from having an unfair advantage in finances during an election, and that Bushee didn't have extra money lying around when she applied for certification. He also stresses that Common Cause has advised each mayoral candidate about public financing and that it is neutral in the election.
"We just want public financing to work," he says.