2021 ABQ Mayoral Race

After Admitting to Forgery (Again) Manny Campaign Denied Financing (Again): What’s the End Game?

It didn’t take a seasoned political guru to predict that the City of Albuquerque would once again deny Manny Gonzales’ bid for more than $600,000 in public campaign financing, but what was surprising was the complete lack of effort his attorney put into fighting for it.

In an 11-page ruling issued Thursday, City Clerk Ethan Watson detailed multiple instances of forged qualifying contributions, donations paid by the campaign on behalf of voters, and materially false statements made by the campaign to the Clerk’s Office.

The hearing was called after the Gonzales campaign appealed the initial financing denial to the State District Court, which sent the case back to the Clerk’s Office to offer Gonzales a “due process” hearing.

That hearing can be viewed in full at the city’s government TV channel on YouTube.

Watson’s final ruling was a point-by-point evisceration of any credibility of Gonzales’ claim of deniability, and the clerk drove a dagger through their hearts when he stated not only that the city’s case had been well made for denial of public campaign financing, but that the Gonzales campaign didn’t even bother to offer a defense.

Despite having hundreds of pages of evidence in their possession for nearly two months, Watson wrote that Gonzales utilized only one of the three hours allotted during the hearing, and used that time attacking the Clerk’s Office rather than calling witnesses or presenting evidence.

“You did not call Ms. McMillian, Ms. Martinez, or 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, 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 supporting the contemplated action.” 

— City Clerk Ethan Watson

If there was any doubt about the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s guilt, Gonzales’ lawyer washed it away with yet another admission that the campaign did indeed commit fraud.

“It is true that the campaign has conceded that some but certainly not all of the alleged problematic qualifying contribution sheets appear to have been signed by someone other than the contributor.”

The crux of Gonzales’ defense was that he didn’t know nor should he have known that anything about his qualifying contributions were fraudulent. But rather than denying, arguing, or even contextualizing the points presented by the city attorneys, Gonzales attorney Daniel Gallegos attacked the process.

Gallegos called the hearing a “farce” and a “sham.” He quoted extensively, and awkwardly, from a former Supreme Court Justice about “procedural fairness” and how “one might well prefer to live under Soviet substantive law applied in good faith by our common-law procedures, than under our substantive law enforced by Soviet procedural practices.” 

And he refused to give “credibility” to the hearing by addressing the issues individually, stating, “It is clear that this hearing falls well short of procedural due process and procedural fairness, and we object to the hearing on due process grounds.”

You could almost hear the city attorneys slapping high fives as the video footage of the hearing faded to black. 

As for deniability, the Clerk’s report slapped that down, too, pointing to the “Designation of Representatives” form wherein Gonzales signed his agreement that he was “fully responsible for the statements made and materials submitted by these representatives on behalf of your campaign.”

It may have been the first due process hearing in the history of due process hearings where the defendant’s attorney didn’t…defend.

But that wasn’t really the point, as Gallegos’ charade made clear.

At the same time the City Clerk began Gonzales’ due process hearing, the Gonzales campaign was filing a petition with the New Mexico Supreme Court to order the city to grant him the $600,000 in public financing.

It’s impossible to know what the high court will rule, but if the past three appeals are any indication, it’s unlikely to go Gonzales’ way.

For one, the law empowers the City Clerk authority to grant or deny public financing. That ruling can be appealed, and was — to the Albuquerque Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices, which already fined the Gonzales campaign $500 for violating campaign rules by telling a voter that the campaign would take care of the required qualifying contribution. 

The ethics board’s ruling was unanimous, but that too can be appealed, and was — to the state court, which sent it back to the City Clerk.

Now that the City Clerk has ruled again, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where a Supreme Court would step in to decide a case that lower courts had not actually ruled on.

The state court’s so-called “reversal” of the City Clerk’s denial of public financing wasn’t actually a reversal at all. The ruling was on procedural grounds — hence Gallegos’ Soviet Union quote — not on the merits of the evidence itself. And the city complied.

The New Mexico Supreme Court now faces the question of whether or not the City Clerk’s evidence isn’t evidence at all, whether the Gonzales campaign’s admission of guilt wasn’t an admission at all, and whether the ethics board’s unanimous ruling and $500 fine for campaign violations weren’t violations at all.

Without a defense attorney willing to offer a defense, the Gonzales campaign is just kicking the can down the road.

But for what?

If the goal was to actually secure the funding, why not offer an actual defense?

If the goal is to die by a thousand cuts from a barrage of news headlines linking Gonzales’ campaign to “fraud” and “forgery” and “appeals,” why not own the mistakes and bow out?

If the goal is to garner sympathy from voters about a “sham” of an election process, how many voters will interpret the campaign’s failure to follow a simple qualifying process as a sign that perhaps Gonzales isn’t up for the job of running an entire city?

The following statements were made by the other two candidates in the mayoral race in response to the City Clerk’s second denial of public financing for the Gonzales campaign.

“Manny Gonzales committed fraud and they’ve admitted to forgery. Those facts won’t change — and those are the underlying reason he’s being denied public financing. They did this to themselves and they need to end the blame game and admit their responsibility.” 

 Incumbent Mayor Tim Keller, Democrat

“Manny Gonzales has admitted to fraud and forgery during the qualifying phase of this campaign. Not only should he be denied taxpayer-funded campaign financing, but he should probably also be prosecuted. At the very least Manny needs to be disqualified from the race.” 

— Candidate Eddy Aragon, Republican

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