Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

Sheriff Manny Gonzales holds campaign contribution forms, source: Manny for ABQ Facebook

Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales’ application for public financing has been denied by Albuquerque City Clerk Ethan Watson, citing sufficient evidence of potential misconduct in the qualifying process. The Keller reelection campaign filed multiple ethics complaints shortly after Gonzales qualified for public financing on June 19. 

In a letter to the Gonzales campaign dated Friday, July 9, Watson wrote that he could not confirm that Gonzales had complied with Open and Ethical Election Code and associated regulations. Mayor Keller’s reelection campaign committee filed an ethics complaint against the Gonzales campaign for alleged forged signatures in the runup to qualify for public financing. 

“This Office cannot provide that certification because: (1) a registered voter has filed an attestation that you personally—as the candidate seeking public financing—told a registered voter that you would pay a required five-dollar contribution for that voter in possible violation of OEEC Regulations, Part C(6); and (2) documents presented to my Office show different signatures for the same voters on different official documents in possible violation of numerous provisions of our regulations and other laws,” Watson wrote in a letter to the Gonzales campaign. 

Evidence against Gonzales includes comparisons of suspected forged signatures to legitimate signatures on Gonzales’ nominating petitions or voter registration cards, next to forged signatures on public financing documents. Keller’s campaign claims they submitted some signatures to a forensic document examiner who confirmed that the signatures were falsified.  The campaign had not provided a report or affidavit from the examiner by press time.

The recent developments in Gonzales’ bid for the mayorship are just part of a host of allegations against the Bernalillo County sheriff. The Keller campaign has accused the Gonzales campaign of engaging in widespread fraud throughout his bid to qualify for public financing. In their case against the Gonzales campaign, Keller’s reelection committee submitted over 149 examples of forged signatures that the Gonzales campaign submitted to qualify for public financing. 

The Paper. also reported that on June 11, the Gonzales campaign was short of the qualifying 3,779 contributions by 1,237 contributions. Within a week the Gonzales campaign submitted over a thousand $5 campaign contributions to qualify by the June 19 deadline. The sudden surge in campaign contributions led the Keller reelection campaign to file an ethics complaint as many of the signatures appeared to be fraudulent. 

In the weeks after the June 19 deadline, the Keller campaign presented 40 voters who claim that they had no knowledge of signing any of those campaign contribution forms. The 40 voters presented attest that they had no knowledge that their signatures were used in the capacity to support Manny Gonzales. 

Mayor Keller commended the decision made by Watson as part of a greater safeguard for the electoral process in Albuquerque. “As the former state auditor, where we investigated and uncovered cases of fraud and misuse of taxpayer dollars, I know a scam when I see it. The evidence shows that my opponent’s campaign engaged in intentional and widespread fraud by forging the signatures of unaware voters to obtain taxpayer funding. It’s wrong, unethical and possibly criminal election tampering,” Keller said in an official statement. 

Keller campaign manager Neri Holguin shared the mayor’s satisfaction with the decision by the city clerk’s office. “While over a dozen people with Sheriff Gonzales’ campaign appear to have forged documents, most forgeries were committed by two people: Manny Gonzales’ campaign spokeswoman and his executive assistant at the Sheriff’s office,” Holguin said. “Combined with Gonzales’ prior ethics charge, when he instructed a voter that his campaign would ‘cover’ the $5 donation required for public financing, we believe the Gonzales campaign has engaged in a premeditated effort to cheat their way to $660,000 in taxpayer dollars,” Holguin added.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that Gonzales’ campaign believes that Watson was “coerced” by Mayor Keller to deny Gonzales public financing. Gonzales’ campaign is now considering legal options moving forward.

If Watson’s decision stands, Gonzales will be forced to run a privately financed campaign.