Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Election Day '17 Is Here: Final Campaign Hours Consumed By Late Ethics Board Decision Against Frontrunner Keller; Lewis Tries to Make Some Last Minute Hay, Plus: Our Election Night Coverage Begins At 6:30 P.M. On KANW 89.1 FM and KANW.COM  

Our live continuous Election Night coverage begins at 6:30 this evening on KANW-FM 89.1 and on KANW.COM. More on that later in the blog but first our final dispatch from the trail. . . 

Mayoral Campaign '17 ended Monday in a flurry of finger-pointing as an unexpected and very late decision by the city's Board of Ethics roiled the waters enough to breathe a bit of life into the oxygen starved candidacy of Republican Dan Lewis and keep the butterflies churning in the stomach of frontrunner and Democratic hopeful Tim Keller.

The board gave Keller a slap on the wrist for violating the rules over "in-kind" donations to his publicly financed campaign, saying he violated the city election code but the violation was unintentional so he would suffer no penalty. (The full ruling is here.)

It seemed a relatively innocuous decision, although ABQReport journalist Dennis Domrzalski said the Board's decision was "serious."

Whatever the case, coming as it did with only hours before Election Day voting, it sent both campaigns into high gear.  First, more on the ruling:

The Board of Ethics ruled that Keller violated the city's election code by claiming that cash donations to his publicly financed campaign were in-kind contributions. Despite the unanimous ruling, the board decided not to impose any penalty against Keller because it said he didn't intentionally break the election law. In the past, publicly financed candidates did the same thing, the board said. The board said that Keller's campaign consulting firm, Rio Strategies, solicited the cash contributions, deposited them in a bank account separate from Keller's campaign account, and then used the money to buy goods and services for Keller's campaign.

Lewis, who has made ethical complaints against Keller a centerpiece of his uphill campaign, grabbed onto the ruling like a drowning man grabbing a life preserver:

This ruling serves as proof that Tim Keller lied to Albuquerque voters and illegally worked with his political allies to funnel cash to his campaign. How can we trust Tim to hold criminals in this city accountable when he thinks he is above the law himself.

Lewis was asked at a news conference whether he thought Keller should drop out of the race because of the ruling. He look surprised at the query and said "absolutely" while sporting a broad smile.

Well, given the polling in this race, never mind Keller dropping out, he might have to drop dead to give Lewis a reasonable shot.

The Lewis campaign immediately put ads on social media to publicize the ruling and hoped they could squeeze something out of it, even though over half the city vote has already been cast via early voting and Lewis, according to the Journal poll, is losing badly--53 to 34.

Keller, leading big, nevertheless loaded up his cannon for one final volley:

Though our opponents have used trumped up terms like dishonest, “money laundering” and “cash under the table,” those assertions were always baseless and the board’s ruling confirmed that today. That came out loud and clear in today’s ruling which emphatically notes our good faith efforts.

And Keller's campaign added that Lewis' tough talk against Keller on the ethics finding was "a last gasp effort."

But Keller's campaign made a mistake by not getting clear-cut, official permission for how they handled the in-kind donations. And the candidate paid a price in the final set of media headlines:

City Ethics Board rules against Keller campaign over in-kind donations
Board finds Keller violated ethics code
City Ethics Board confirms Keller violated campaign finance rules

The impact on the voting today will be negligible but you can be sure Keller's foes will use any future misstep to remind the city of the ruling. It makes the ethics walk a little narrower for the man who appears to be on his way to becoming the city's new leader.


The Board of Ethics ruling was immediately criticized by Alligators and pundits of all stripes as coming way too late in the process. What was an official government board doing meddling in the campaign on Election Eve? Why wasn't this complaint against Keller filed by Republican Wayne Johnson on September 8 not settled long ago?

Not that the ruling did much good for Lewis or Keller. For Lewis it was like getting your big Christmas present on the morning of December 26. If he had the time to use it in paid media, it might have made a difference. For Keller it was like a rain cloud put over his head just as the electorate was about to give him a halo.

The city ethics system is broken. The Board can't do its job efficiently and its decision to tamper with voter behavior only hours before the polls opened seemed, well, unethical. Fixing the mess is yet another item for the next mayor's "To do" list.


And look who is out sniffing the political winds. It's Republicans Sally Mayer and Darren White. Former BernCo Sheriff White became ABQ Public Safety Director under Mayor Berry but was forced out after a crash involving his wife. He showed up at the scene and drove her to the hospital before she was tested for impairment.

Since then, White, a staunch anti-drug advocate during his law enforcement career, has reversed his position on medical marijuana and is now a director of the ABQ nonprofit medical cannabis firm PurLife. The firm gave $1000 to ABQ Forward Together, an independent committee supporting Keller. White was listed as the contact for the November 6 contribution.

Well, as the old saw goes, politics makes for strange bedfellows.

Let's see. The Journal endorses Keller, the medical pot firm that Darren White works with gives money to aid the Keller cause and former ABQ GOP City Councilor Sally Mayer, whose daughter heads CYFD under Governor Martinez, endorses Keller.

Gees, this is a tough race for us pundits to get a handle on. :)


Reader Clifton Chadwick read our Monday blog where we listed a number of reasons on why Keller has taken the upper hand in this campaign, but said there is one we did not mention:

While the money matters I'm disappointed you don't give a little ink to the army of volunteers Tim Keller for Albuquerque has had on the ground since the beginning of his campaign. Yes, I contributed to a committee backing him and if Tim is "beholden" to Labor I'm all for it. Better than being beholden to the owners as far as the vast majority of our citizenry is concerned. And so, back to the "Volunteer Labor" that has given Tim Keller for Albuquerque so much impetus - not even a word?


We look forward to having you with us as we cover the mayoral run-off and the westside city council run-off on KANW 89.1 FM and kanw.com starting at 6:30 this evening.

We have some top notch political talent to help bring this one home: Joining me will be former City Councilors Greg Payne and Pete Dinelli, veteran Dem strategist Sisto Abeyta, former Bernalillo County GOP Chairman Rick Abraham, among others.

And among those "others" is none other than Gene Grant, the longtime host of KNME-TV's public affairs program "In Focus" who is also a former columnist for the ABQ Journal. Gene is one of the top political analysts in the state and we are looking forward to working with him once again.

And also joining us will be independent Catherine Trujillo who ran in that hotly contested District 5 city council race that is going to a run-off tonight.

Gene Grant
The Keller election night party will be at Hotel Andaluz and the Lewis event will be at the downtown Hyatt.

If you haven't voted yet, here are the polling locations that are open today from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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