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Candidates return funds after discovery of campaign contribution violations

Jen French
September 19, 2017 01:42 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — On a platform of promise, the candidates running for Albuquerque mayor say they’ll shake up City Hall, lower the crime rate and increase work opportunities. Each one claims he or she has the solution.

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However, 4 Investigates found that some candidates who’ve promised change have also accepted campaign contributions from companies that already have a business relationship with the city. It’s a violation of the city’s election code that seeks to keep contractors from getting too cozy with the next mayor.

4 Investigates looked at contributions made to all eight mayoral hopefuls and discovered that Dan Lewis, Brian Colón and Wayne Johnson have accepted money from companies that have city contracts.

Colón told 4 Investigates he didn’t know some of his contributors were also making money off of the city.

“Absolutely not,” Colón said. “As soon as we were notified of the contributions (from city contractors) that we received, those refund checks were issued.”

After 4 Investigates notified the Colón campaign that city contractors eKore LLC ($5,000), Star Paving Company ($1,750) and PG Enterprises ($5,150) all donated to his campaign, he said his camp issued refund checks immediately. In total, $11,900 in refunds were distributed.

“If a company has a contract with the city, and you unknowingly accept that contribution, you’ve got to give it back,” Colón said.

Still, some business owners write checks in their name instead of their businesses. Alejandro Blake gave $2,500 to Colón under his name, but Blake is also the vice president of Hold My Ticket – a company with a city contract.

The Albuquerque City Charter permits individuals who happen to own or run a business with a city contract to donate to candidates. 4 Investigates asked Colón what he thought of the policy.

“If I were to guess the conversation that surrounded this ordinance … I think people believe that if individuals support a candidate, they ought to be able to support them with endorsements and financially. Individual people have a voice,” Colón said.

Lewis has been a city councilor for eight years. Still, he held a campaign event at The Garage, an auto repair shop, last April. That garage also repairs city vehicles.

“When we find out, when we are aware of that, and if they’re not compliant with the city code, then we give it back and we report it,” Lewis said.

Lewis also accepted $2,000 from city contractor and granite supplier PG Enterprises. Meanwhile, the owner of Bixby Electric — also a city contractor — gave Lewis $150.

“When we are aware of it, we check with the city clerk and we send the donations back to the donor,” Lewis said.

4 Investigates also found candidate and Bernalillo County Commissioner Wayne Johnson accepted $5,000 from Mosher Enterprises. Johnson said he didn’t know Moser was a city contractor. He said he will check with the city clerk and potentially return the donation.

A week ago, an ethics complaint was filed questioning why Johnson accepted money from Bernalillo County contractors.

"The ethics complaint filed Monday was laughable,” Johnson said. “That clearly is a code of contact that applies to county races – not city races."

Johnson said because the mayoral race is a city race and not a county one, the city charter still allows for the donation. He said he is still in county election compliance because the county donations came from individuals or were less than $1,000.

He said he plans to fight the ethics complaint.

Johnson, Lewis and Colón all said they’re keeping donations from individuals who happen to own a business with a city contract but plan on returning donations from city contractors.

Credits

Jen French

Copyright 2017 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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