Two mayoral candidates are scrambling for positions ahead of a Board of Ethics hearing in Albuquerque on Thursday. During the preliminary hearing, board members will consider whether a complaint filed by publicly financed candidate Pete Dinelli against privately financed incumbent Richard Berry merits a full hearing later in the year.
Dinelli has alleged that Richard Berry’s camp accepted over $17,000 in questionable contributions from donors who either own or work for companies that have contracts with the city – a violation of election laws.
Mayor Berry and his re-election committee do not want the board to meet ahead of a federal case.
Six of the mayor’s donors have filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the city’s ban on their contributions. On June 18 they asked a federal judge to issue a temporary restraining order that would stop the Board of Ethics from holding a hearing on the allegations. But earlier today Chief United States District Judge M. Christina Armijo denied the request.
Unless there is an emergency motion the meeting will start at 4:00 pm Thursday in city council chambers.
In a response to the complaint, Berry’s Attorney Paul Kienzel argues the board should still dismiss the case, since they have already rejected similarly worded complaints filed by activists and Democratic Party of New Mexico Chairman Sam Bregman, and because the board has taken a contradictory position in the federal lawsuit.
Further, Kienzel alleges that Dinelli’s team misled the board when they presented a list of individual donors who are also listed on the City Clerk’s webpage listing donors with connections to contractors and vendors. But Kienzel maintains those are individual donors and they did not contribute money to Berry on behalf of their companies. Instead, Keinzel suggests Dinelli’s complaint was was “brought for harassment and pure politics.”
Keinzel argues the board should wait for the federal court to make a determination on the donor’s lawsuit before they weigh in or it could disenfranchise a “huge swath of voters.”
“Anyone with a paying job would be unable to contribute,” Keinzel writes in the motion. He says there is no way for a company to know who their employees are contributing to — even if they are “merely owners.”
In a late-afternoon news release, Dinelli’s camp says Judge Armijo’s ruling “is a clear win for strengthening and reinforcing the utmost ethical behavior we must demand from our elected officials.”
“The Mayor clearly broke the law by taking campaign cash from city contractors,” Dinelli is quoted as saying in the news release. “His actions to try and legalize pay-to-play politics after the fact is a slap in the face to the 72% of voters who voted to end this practice.”
Former City Councilor Michael Cadigan, who helped write the law, is now an intervenor for Dinelli in the federal lawsuit. In his response to Berry’s attorney, Cadigan writes the business principles should be considered agents for the purpose of the city charter. He suggests if the board waits for the federal case to play out that all publicly financed candidates in this year’s election, including Dinelli and city council candidates, who relied on the 2007 language and city guidance would be harmed.
Dinelli himself received $200 from attorneys connected to firms with city contracts and donated the funds to charity.