Two separate hearings had two very different outcomes today for mayoral candidate Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales. A district court judge decided to overturn the City Clerk’s decision to withhold public financing from the campaign, and the city’s Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices fined the campaign for allegations of fraudulent voter signatures and campaign contributions.
A report filed by the city’s inspector general found credible evidence that at least 11 campaign representatives, including Gonzales himself, submitted receipts for public financing contributions they did not collect and that almost 10 percent of sampled donations were fraudulent or failed to follow the law.
The Board of Ethics ruled against Gonzales and fined the campaign $500 in a unanimous vote. During the hearing, Dean Zantow, a voter who accused Gonzales of making a contribution on his behalf recalled the incident that took place at an event at the Salvation Army and reiterated that he did not make a qualifying contribution to Gonzales. Despite not receiving a qualifying bid from Zantow, a qualifying bid was still made on his behalf. Zantow emphasized that he interacted with Gonzales and verified that the incident did happen. Zantow stated that he neither misheard or misunderstood Sheriff Gonzales at the event. “I did not give him $5,” he said.
Zantow made it clear that he is not registered with any political parties in New Mexico.
Attorneys representing the Keller campaign argued that “directly telling a voter that they don’t need to donate, that’s not a mistake, that’s a violation.” Gonzales’ attorney’s argued that Gonzales was being punished for an innocent mistake that they referred to as “excusable negligence.” His attorney’s also claimed that there has been a “microscope trained on the Gonzales campaign.”
Sheriff Gonzales also made an appearance as a witness during the hearing. Gonzales noted that mistakes may have been made due to the inexperience of the campaign. “If you’re asking if I’m perfect, I’m not,” Gonzales said.
Following the Board of Ethics and Campaign Practice hearing, District Court Judge Bryan Biedscheid held a hearing on whether City Clerk Ethan Watson’s decision to deny the Gonzales Campaign would stand. After arguments from attorneys from the Keller campaign and the Gonzales campaign, the judge overturned Watson’s decision to withhold over $600,000 in public financing due to lack of due process by which Watson made his decision to deny the public funding.
Watson’s attorney argued that the City Clerk is the only one who can certify a candidate for public financing and that Gonzales had his chance to make his case in the process that followed the Clerk’s initial decision.
The judge gave Watson three choices: Watson can either reissue his decision based on a due process, set up a procedure for the due process required to arrive at his decision or he can elect not to set up a procedure and grant Gonzales access to public funding. The clerk has until 5pm on Monday to meet the judge’s deadline.