News

Ethics and Campaign Review Board Calls for Investigation on Anonymous Ads

Members dismissed two complaints, while two others await next steps

Election

The City of Santa Fe’s Ethics and Campaign Review Board wants the city to hire an investigator, and maybe more, to learn the identity of the person behind an online account “Jay Baker,” whom it determined violated code during the local election.

The board convened Thursday afternoon and dismissed two complaints filed against candidates; took no action on another; and found a complaint filed by future District 3 Councilor Pilar Faulkner to be legally sufficient.

Faulkner’s complaint, filed Nov. 30, alleged that the anonymous pseudonym “Jay Baker” purchased digital advertisements against her and former District 2 candidate Phil Lucero but failed to reveal critical information required by law such as name and contact information or register as a political action committee.

“To me, this kind of politicking in an attempt to influence elections was done illegally, and if we don’t address it as a city, we are setting a dangerous precedent,” Faulkner said during the meeting. “Disclosure is a key part of the ethics of elections.”

While the board saw clear violations of code and found Faulker’s complaint to have merit for investigation, discussion ensued on how the board should go about figuring out who is behind the posts. Board Chair Paul Biderman told Senior Assistant City Attorney Marcos Martinez he thought an investigation that may later lead to a potential subpoena would be a good solution.

“I don’t think they are alternatives. I think we can do both,” Biderman said. “That way the investigator may turn up some information that says we need a subpoena for that person, but it seems better than having to call the board back each time.”

The board’s chair has the authority to organize discovery in a case, as far as calling for a subpoena, but “the issue may be a budgetary one,” said Martinez. He said he will connect with city officials about finding potential funding.

“If ever there was a situation for an investigation, this situation seems like it shouts out for it,” Member Judith Amer said.

It’s difficult to serve a subpoena on an unknown person, however. Faulkner argued that is exactly why the board must take action, including a potential subpoena that would call on Facebook to unmask “Jay Baker.”

“This right here is the conundrum, because there’s no way they can be served. That puts them at an advantage that feels unfair and feels unethical,” she said. “The only way to find out their identity is to be subpoenaed.”

Retired state employee Arcy Baca, who did not attend the meeting, filed three ethics complaints against Geno Zamora, a former city attorney who ran for a seat in District 1; planning commissioner and climate educator Lucero; and Faulkner, who will be sworn in as a District 3 councilor on Dec. 29. Baca also named Sandra Wechsler, campaign manager for Zamora and Lucero, and J.C. Tolson, treasurer for Faulkner, in the complaints.

Each of the retired Santa Fe resident’s complaints alleged 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.”

Baca’s complaints targeted expenditures made specifically on the Oct. 31 campaign finance reports. He alleged the reports violated 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.”

In a response for both Zamora and Lucero, Wechsler 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.

In her response to the complaint, Faulkner argued “the complainant fails to provide argument or evidence” of how the rules were allegedly violated.

The board voted unanimously to dismiss claims against Lucero and Faulkner, arguing that the complainant asked for details that are not required by law.

“I think we have enough information to comply with the rule, and therefore there’s no secrecy or pattern of nondisclosure, and I would move to dismiss this complaint,” Member Kristina Martinez said during the meeting.

Amer added asking for itemized lists of each and every campaign expenditure “would be onerous and unnecessary.”

The board didn’t take action on the complaint against Zamora, however, because three board members recused themselves. Members Martinez and Biderman, along with Jose Puentes cited an inability to be impartial as a result of personal relationships with the candidate or Wechsler, making it so the board could not reach a quorum.

Interim City Clerk Geralyn Cardenas tells SFR she and other city officials are actively seeking someone to fill an empty seat on the board, and at that point, the board will revisit the complaint. The board set a subsequent meeting for April 4.

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