A local nonprofit that advocates for clean elections is upset over a labor union organization's recent offer to pay its members to advocate for favored Santa Fe mayoral and City Council candidates.
Yesterday, a public employees' union emailed its members to inform them that the Northern New Mexico Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO will pay $11 an hour stipends for volunteers to make phone calls and canvass to rally support for candidates that the labor umbrella organization has endorsed. The stipends will be paid after the March 4 city election, according to the email.
Mike Archuleta, president of the local Central Labor Council, says his organization is offering members stipends because many of them are out of work and need the money. He maintains that the phone banking and canvassing is not affiliated with any of the city candidates running for office.
The CLC recently endorsed Javier Gonzales for mayor, Michael Segura for city council in District 1, Joseph Maestas for city council in District 2 and incumbent Carmichael Dominguez in District 3.
"We have nothing to do with the political side on the other side," Archuleta says. "We completely stay away from that and just tell our members our choice for endorsement and why."
But Jim Harrington, the state chair of Common Cause New Mexico, criticizes the stipends as undermining the purpose of public campaign financing. Each CLC-endorsed candidate has qualified for public financing—Gonzales was awarded $60,000 in public money for his mayoral campaign while Segura, Maestas and Dominguez were awarded $15,000 for their city council runs.
Harrington adds that while the Supreme Court allows for such spending under the Citizens United ruling, Common Cause still "doesn't like it."
"These are not volunteers when you’re paying them money," Harrington says of the labor members who will be paid stipends. "[It's] spending private money on public campaigns when the purpose was to get private money out of the election."
Assistant City Attorney Zachary Shandler tells SFR his office is reviewing information about the stipends, but he wouldn't yet comment about whether the practice conforms with city campaign rules.
Archuleta stresses that union members will only be reaching out to other union members about the CLC-endorsed candidates. He adds that CLC's "volunteers" will only be distributing their own information on the election—not information from any of the candidates' campaigns. He adds that the stipends are part of a "educational program" and adds that the funding isn't coming from union member dues.
But the CLC is raising money from its members for the upcoming elections. A letter sent out to CLC members from Archuleta on Dec. 31 asks for donations and lists the organization's endorsements for the city election.
"We are ready now ready to kick-off Labor 2014 Campaign and as you know, to run a good campaign and to support the best of candidates, we need each and every one of our affiliates to help us out financially so we can run the most effective member to member campaign," he wrote.
Read the Dec. 31 letter below: