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Ethics Board to Weigh Alleged Campaign Finance Violations

Complainant claims Zamora, Lucero and Faulkner failed to thoroughly report City Council campaign expenditures

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Even though Election Day has come and gone, the City of Santa Fe’s Ethics and Campaign Review Board plans to meet this week to consider complaints filed against two candidates who lost races for the City Council and one future councilor.

The board, which did not meet during the local election season, will convene Nov. 16 for the first time since March to review and decide the steps for complaints filed by retired state employee Arcy Baca against Geno Zamora, a former city attorney who ran for District 1; planning commissioner and bike activist Phil Lucero, who ran in District 2; and Pilar Faulkner, who won the race in District 3 on Nov. 7.

Sandra Wechsler, campaign manager for Zamora and Lucero, and J.C. Tolson, treasurer for Faulkner, are also named in the complaints.

Baca filed the complaint against Faulkner Oct. 30. Then, he filed against Zamora and Lucero Nov. 3.

Each complaint alleges the same violation: the candidate’s campaign finance report submitted to the city “did not adhere to the stipulation of segregating individual expenses as mandated by the regulation.”

Zamora finished the election as the highest earning candidate, raising $82,000, of which $47,497 went to SWEL, a consulting firm managed by Wechsler and Eli Il Yong, for “reimbursements for mailers, walk cards and consulting,” and the remainder paid for fundraising fees and radio and digital advertisements.

In the District 2 race, Lucero raised $45,155, and $20,728 went to SWEL, while the remainder paid for fundraising, digital advertising and more.

Finally, Faulkner amassed $21,348, and $10,742 went to Tolson. Other dollars went toward consulting, fundraising fees and more.

Baca’s complaints target expenditures made specifically on the Oct. 31 campaign finance reports. He alleges the reports violate Santa Fe’s campaign finance laws, which stipulate “political campaign contributions and expenditures be fully disclosed to the public and that secrecy in the sources and application of such contributions be avoided.”

The 27-year resident of Santa Fe adds he filed complaints because he was “kind of disappointed these people don’t go more for public financing.” Of 10 candidates, six conducted private fundraising.

“This guy’s ‘I got this money from the top,’ I believe it’s kinda like they’re cheating. It’s not right. It’s a small community. Don’t do that. Play fair,” Baca says.

In a four-part response for both Zamora and Lucero, Wechsler asked the board to dismiss the complaint and argued there is “no such mandate in any of the City’s ordinances, rules or regulations that describe or require ‘segregating individual expenses,’” noting the campaign’s reports were both accurate and legal.

“This section requires the report to be ‘itemized with the total amount paid to each individual or business’ not each expenditure to be itemized,” Wechsler wrote in the response. She also attached previous campaign finance reports from other candidates that described their expenditures in a similar fashion.

The local election proved unsuccessful for Zamora and Lucero. Zamora came second in a four-way race, capturing 48% of the vote in the third ranked-choice voting round to Café Castro owner and labor organizer Alma Castro’s 52%. Lucero, on the other hand, received 46% of the vote and failed to unseat District 2 Councilor Michael Garcia.

Meanwhile, 56% of voters chose Faulkner to represent the city’s Southside instead of private investigator Louis Carlos.

In her response to the complaint, Faulkner also asked the board to dismiss the matter, noting “the complainant fails to provide argument or evidence” of how the rules were allegedly violated.

District 1 Councilor Signe Lindell also filed a complaint against security guard and District 4 candidate Joel Nava in October, but dropped the matter after Nava returned $1,000 to a supporter who had donated $2,000, which exceeds the amount candidates can accept from an individual contributor.

The board, which currently has six members and is chaired by attorney Justin Miller, is set to meet at 3 pm, Nov. 16 in the council chambers.

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