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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.

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After a months-long battle, Albuquerque City Clerk Ethan Watson gave his final (for now) ruling that he will not certify the Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales’ mayoral campaign for public financing. Last week District Court Judge Bryan Biedscheid overturned Watson’s decision to deny the funding based on a lack of due process. The clerk was ordered to create a due process by which to arrive at the decision to deny or to grant the sheriff public funding. The clerk held a hearing on Wednesday to give Gonzales one last time to make his case for why he qualified for more than $600,000 in public financing.

Following Wednesday’s hearing, which the Gonzales campaign’s attorneys repeatedly referred to as a “sham” and “meaningless,” Watson issued this statement on his decision to deny the Gonzales Campaign public financing. 

“The Clerk’s Office has complied with the process that the court directed. Following that process, the Clerk’s Office declines to certify you to receive public financing because you as a candidate, your campaign’s employees and the designated representatives for whom you expressly accepted responsibility submitted materially false statements to the Clerk’s Office, submitted forged Qualifying Contribution acknowledgment forms to the Clerk’s Office in your campaign to obtain financing which you and your employees knew or should have known were forged, and paid for the Qualifying Contribution of purported contributors.”

Last week the city’s Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices fined the Gonzales campaign a meager $500 for fraudulent campaign practices, which was confirmed by an independent investigation by the city’s Inspector General into allegations of forged signatures and fraudulent qualifying contributions against the Gonzales campaign. 

In his decision, the Watson also addressed the Gonzales Campaign’s failure to address accusations and findings of fraud. 

“The Notice of Contemplated Action was divided into four parts, and you were given the opportunity to address each component of the notice over the course of a three-hour hearing. You spent your time at the hearing addressing other matters including the Clerk’s Office. And you used only one of the three hours provided. Although you did admit ‘factual’ contentions (through counsel), you denied any ‘allegations.’ You did not call any witness at all. You did not admit evidence, nor did you seek to admit any evidence or documents. In short, given notice that the Clerk’s Office was considering denying certification, a notice of the evidence and legal basis on which the Clerk’s Office proposed to deny certification, and an opportunity to respond to the allegations of fraud, you provided no response to the substance of the allegations support the contemplated action.”

Following Tuesday’s hearing, the Gonzales campaign announced that it had asked the State Supreme Court to intervene on the two-month public financing debacle. Gonzales’ attorneys filed the petition at 9:30am on Wednesday, at the same time Gonzales appeared before the City Clerk. The petition requests that the State Supreme Court overturn the city clerk’s decision in real time to allow the Gonzales Campaign access to over $600,000 in public financing. 

The Supreme Court has yet to take action on the petition. 

The Paper. reached out to both the Gonzales campaign and his attorneys for a response, and their response was that the decision was “expected.” Immediately afterward, Gonzales’ attorneys filed for a rehearing in District Court.

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