After more than an hour of deliberating in executive session, the city Ethics and Campaign Review Board dismissed a complaint alleging coordination between mayoral candidate Javier Gonzales and the political action committees that support him.
The board concluded that the complaint from former ECRB chairman Fred Rowe was not legally sufficient because it didn't establish proper evidence that Gonzales, who qualified for and took $60,000 in public campaign financing, was coordinating with the PACs that support him.
In his complaint, Rowe criticized two PACs— Progressive Santa Fe and Working Families—plus the local American Federation of State, Municipal and County Employees and the union-funded Working America, as undermining the city's public financing rules. Rowe also laid out some of Gonzales' personal connections with people behind the PACs and urged the board to use its subpoena power to question Gonzales and others.
Gonzales' opponents Patti Bushee and Bill Dimas also qualified for the $60,000 in public campaign money, but so far Gonzales is the only mayoral candidate to receive outside support in the form of independent expenditures.
As of today's expenditure reports, the groups supporting Gonzales have spent at least $47,000 on opinion polls, pro-Gonzales mailers and other election-related material.
Rowe's complaint also took on the local AFSCME union for offering paid stipends to union members to phone banking and canvass other union member to support Gonzales and other union-endorsed city candidates. During the board meeting, Stephen Curtice, a lawyer representing AFSCME, said union-sponsored member-to-member stipend programs have been legally protected by the Supreme Court since the 1940s.
"We've done nothing but play by all the rules, and there is an important component of free speech involved in any organization getting their family to talk within their own family," Carter Bundy, a political director for AFSCME Council 18, says of the member-to-member program.
During the hearing, attorneys representing Gonzales, labor union leader Jon Hendry and the Progressive Santa Fe and Santa Fe Working Families PACs repeatedly argued that the complaint by Rowe, who's personally supporting Gonzales Bushee for mayor, lacked documented evidence and instead relied on innuendo and hearsay.
Justin Kaufman, the attorney representing Gonzales, urged the board to focus on the legal nature of Rowe's complaint and not on criticism of PACs spending outside money in an election with publicly-financed candidates.
"We agree with Mr. Rowe that the issues he raises in his complaint are serious," Kaufman told the board. "What we disagree with is that anything he alleges in his complaint has any legal consequences."
Gonzales has called on the PACs to step down from the election, though critics say he hasn't done so strongly enough.
While the board's three members who voted (Tara Lujan and Rod Thompson didn't attend the meeting, Paul Biderman recused himself and board chair Justin Miller doesn't cast votes) all dismissed the complaint, board member Kristina Martinez said she was troubled by discrepancies between Hendry and Gonzales' affidavits submitted yesterday in response to Rowe's complaint.