A political action committee supporting mayoral candidate Javier Gonzales has gone negative in Santa Fe's municipal election
Glossy flyers that began to arrive in mailboxes this week courtesy of the group Santa Fe Working Families argue that the choice between Gonzales and his opponent Patti Bushee is "easy" and contrasted the candidates' views on minimum wage, the environment and education.
"Only Javier Gonzales fought to increase the minimum wage," reads one mailer, "his opponent Patti Bushee actually opposed Santa Fe's Living Wage the last time she ran for mayor."
"Pattie Bushee's record raises a lot of questions for me," reads another Santa Fe Working Families mailer, which quotes a woman named Bernice Garcia of Santa Fe.
Bushee called the mailers' claims on the living wage "a complete distortion of my
"If you look at my voting
record on the living wage," she tells SFR, "I have always supported the living wage and I
continue to support a living wage that’s tied to the Consumer Price Index."
Gonzales, Bushee and Bill Dimas have taken $60,000 in taxpayer money each to bankroll their mayoral campaigns so they don't have to raise cash privately.
City code prevents candidates who run a publicly financed campaign from raising private money or coordinating with PACs that raise and spend private money. But the city's public financing code cannot prevent outside groups from pouring privately raised money into the race. The law of the land is the US Supreme Court's Citizens United decision—which established that campaign spending equals free speech.
Three outside spending groups have thrown their support behind Gonzales—leading to criticisms that even if those groups aren't breaking the letter of the public financing code, they're breaking its spirit.
Bushee says people should question Gonzales' "honesty in this process."
"You start the race with one hand tied
behind your back and then all of the sudden—and you shouldn’t because it’s
supposed to be this even playing field—and then all of the sudden there’s
another PAC and then there’s another PAC and they’re out of DC and they’re out
of Albuquerque," she says. "...Then they go
negative on you and the candidate [Gonzales] stands back and says, ‘I don’t know anything
about this.’ And then you feel like you have both hands tied behind your back.
I think people are taking notice. I sure hope so."
Gonzales tells SFR he hasn't seen the Santa Fe Working Family mailers in question.
outside entities are entities that I have disavowed," Gonzales tells SFR. "I have asked for publicly
in every media venue that I have possibly could [for the PACs] to stand down."
But he says the good-government nonprofit Common Cause New Mexico advises that candidates cannot call outside PACs and ask them to stand down because that would constitute coordination.
"So being able to call
these individuals directly is not something that I’m going to do because I don’t want to violate any of
the campaign finance laws that prohibit that from happening," he says. "So you know it’s unfair for her to say that there’s a coordinated effort taking place
when in fact there’s not. And we have been very diligent in making sure that
that doesn’t happen."
Gonzales says he supports the living wage.
The outside spending has become a tricky campaign issue for Gonzales. The city's daily newspaper, the Santa Fe New Mexican
, refused to endorse
any of the candidates in an editorial published over the weekend. The paper's editorial board praised Gonzales, but it argued that "he has done little to stop the flow of slick mailers, polls and other bought-and-paid-for support."
On Sunday at a forum with former Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman, Gonzales again disavowed the outside groups—while at the same time defended the people who run them.
Here's his full quote:
Why I'm so proud of this campaign is that we have not needed the PACs to create the movement that we've been able to create. Now but I do want to say this. And this is important because I think the PACs [and] the people that have been involved have been demonized. These are individuals who fight to promote environmental regulations—not roll them back. These are people who fight to raise the minimum wages—not lower them. I wish they would have stayed out of this race. I really, really do. Because quite honestly it's been a distraction for me and we haven't needed them to be involved. But you know they are people who want to see the city move forward in making sure that we're strong environmental stewards, that we're taking care of people so that they can have their wages grown. But let me just say emphatically to all of you here that I disavow them. I don't want them involved. We're going to win this race without them. No one speaks for me but me.
Feb. 24 update:
Santa Fe Working Families treasurer Keegan King writes in an email that the group's mailers are "accurate."
"I don’t think you should characterize our mail as 'negative,' which has pejorative implications," he writes.
He cited a 2002 Albuquerque Journal candidate questionnaire. Bushee responded to the question of whether she would support the living wage thusly: "I fully support an ordinance that guarantees our city workers (through collective bargaining) and employees of city contractors be paid a livable wage with benefits. With regard to expanding the living-wage concept to the private sector, I find the provisions of the current proposal to be unenforceable."
Bushee tells SFR she supports the living wage and calls the mailers a distortion of her voting record.
Asked whether his group is disrespecting Gonzales' public statements that call for outside PACs in the race to step down, King writes: "Do you really think working families should rely solely on the candidates to tell the full story in these elections?"
He adds: "That's why we have political action committees and newspapers—to help educate voters on the issues that matter."