For the second time in three weeks, the Ethics and Campaign Review Board has dismissed a complaint connected to the increasingly contentious Santa Fe mayoral contest—this time voting unanimously to reject allegations filed by Mayor Alan Webber.
After returning from executive session, board member Paul Biderman said the board decided to throw out the complaint because it did not “sufficiently [state] claims upon which we could grant relief or have jurisdiction.”
Webber’s complaint accused the Hispanic fraternal organization, Union Protectíva de Santa Fé, and other groups of acting as unregistered political action committees by funding signage and advertisements attacking the mayor for his involvement—or lack thereof—in events surrounding controversial historic monuments in the city.
The mayor’s legal team says the attacks are political in nature and therefore the group should have filed as a PAC.
Also included in the accusations is Webber’s other opponent in the mayoral race, City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler. Webber’s complaint alleges that Union Protectíva is illegally colluding with Vigil Coppler.
Webber filed his ethics complaint against Union Protectíva, VFW Post 2951 and American Legion Post 1 the day before his own legal team came to his defense against accusations from another mayoral contender, Alexis Martinez Johnson.
Union Protectíva recycled those critiques in a complaint filed Wednesday and included some new claims against the mayor, accusing Webber of bullying public employees and leveraging his legal defenses’ connections to the ethics board. The ethics board will take up Union Protectíva’s complaint on Sept. 28.
The group also called for the disqualification of Ruth Kovnat and Kristina Martinez for their ties to the mayor and his legal team. Martinez, a partner of Webber’s defense, Egolf, Ferlic, Martinez and Harwood LLC, recused herself from Thursday’s meeting.
Kovnat asked her peers for their opinion on her recusal. She denied having made contributions to Webber’s campaign, though she conceded to contributing to Brian Egolf’s election to the state House of Representatives.
“In my judgement, that’s not justification for recusal,” she told the board.
Jeff Herrera, an attorney with Egolf, Ferlic, Martinez and Harwood LLC, speaking on behalf of Webber, laid out the campaign’s charges against Union Protectíva and other groups.
“There are three entities who have tried to influence our municipal elections, but feel that they are above the requirement that voters know who is funding those advertisements,” Herrera told the board.
Herrera outlined the standard for political committees: an entity that spends more than $250 to influence an election. Advertisements in SFR paid for by Union Protectíva, Herrera argued, indicate that the organization is in violation of the Code of Ethics by not registering as a political committee. VFW Post 2951 and American Legion Post 1 both denied paying for advertisements in their responses to the complaint—Herrera said the board should take the next step of moving into a discovery phase to verify the claims.
If Union Protectíva made contributions to Vigil Coppler, Herrera said those should also be disclosed.
Union Protectíva’s spokesman, James Hallinan, tells SFR the organization “is not a political committee.” The group’s website states its mission is “to help preserve the language, traditions, history, arts and culture from our descendants of the original Spanish Colonists of Santa Fe New Mexico and its surrounding areas.”
Scott Fuqua, representing Union Protectíva, argued that the group does not qualify as a political committee “because the organization’s principal purpose is something other than electioneering communications—those communications intending to influence the outcome of an election—they’re not a political committee, and that is the end of that inquiry.”
Biderman exempted Union Protectíva and the other groups from the category of political committees, echoing the arguments made by Fuqua that the organizations’ primary purpose is not political in nature.
Further, Biderman said, the complaint’s allegations of collusion were improperly directed at Union Protectíva instead of the political candidate, in this case Vigil Coppler, who is subject to the Code of Ethics.
In an emailed statement from Webber’s spokeswoman, Sascha Anderson, the campaign writes, “We respect the Board’s decision but respectfully disagree. All entities that engage in negative campaigning should disclose their donors so there is transparency to the voters.”
Biderman invoked John Lennon in a comment to the board he acknowledged was beyond his jurisdiction: “Today is the 50th anniversary of the song Imagine...I just imagine a world where people run their elections based on their qualifications and policy positions and not on attacking each other’s ethics.”