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KOB looks at rules after manager for publicly financed Keller campaign solicits monetary donations

Chris Ramirez
September 08, 2017 01:23 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Tim Keller’s campaign manager has solicited nearly $30,000 in cash donations, but listed them as “in-kind professional services.”  Generally, that would not raise any eyebrows, but Keller chose to run a publicly financed campaign and he cannot legally accept cash donations.  

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BACKGROUND

In Albuquerque, mayoral candidates can run their campaigns in one of two ways.

There's the traditional way where campaigns spend months asking anybody and everybody to donate. Seven out of the eight candidates have gone that route.

Tim Keller is the only candidate going the public financing route. After a rigorous qualifying process, the City of Albuquerque gave him about $365,000 to run his campaign. By receiving public financing, Keller cannot legally raise any more money for himself.

DID HE FIND AN END-AROUND?

When 4 Investigates combed through Keller's public finance reports, some items stuck out. Dozens of individuals, including many high-profile Democrats, have contributed thousands of dollars and the campaign listed the donations as "in-kind" contributions.

For example:

  • Former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish gave a $1,000. The campaign stated it was for professional services.
  • State Sen. Mimi Stewart donated $200 in professional services.
  • A teacher gave an in-kind professional service donation valued at $500.

The city charter defines an in-kind donation as “a good or service other than money.”

THE CAMPAIGN RESPONSE

"This is a broad grass roots campaign, and those in-kind contributions go to support the broad grassroots campaign," said Jessie Lane Hunt, Keller's campaign manager and a partner at Rio Strategies. "From volunteers, water, clipboards, stamps to mail to voters, the communication we do to communicate Tim's vision."

Rio Strategies bills itself as a full-service public affairs, strategic communications and creative service firm. A note Lane Hunt wrote to someone states, "If you still want to support Tim Keller with an in-kind contribution, like we discussed, you can make a check out to Rio Strategies. Thanks again, and I look forward to hanging out again soon!  Jessie.  P.s., please write, 'Keller in-kind in the memo."

4 Investigates sat down with Lane Hunt to ask about the checks she is soliciting, but labeling as “in-kind.”

KOB: People write checks to Rio Strategies. Rio Strategies then uses that money to supplement the campaign?

Lane Hunt: Yeah, it's an in-kind service to the campaign.

KOB: When we look at the definition of an in-kind, it's stated as a good or service, other than money.  How do you rationalize accepting money into Rio Strategies?

Lane Hunt: "So any in-kind contribution has a value and that value is described as anything that is fully committed to running this campaign as a clean campaign as part of the public finance system. It allows for this kind of in-kind contribution and we are using that to support Tim's vision to get him elected.

KOB: What are these people in-kinding to you?  If you are saying it's not money, it's a good or service, what is that good or service?

Lane Hunt: They are in-kinding services to the campaign.

KOB: Basically what you are saying is they are paying for your time as Tim's campaign manager?

Lane Hunt: And all the things that go into supporting this broad grassroots effort. It's water. It's Post-Its. It's clipboards. It's office space. It's all the things that support the broad network of people working to support the campaign.

KOB: But you are the recipient of the money?

Lane Hunt: Right, and yes, and that is the in-kind that any individual provides to the campaign.

KOB: "A lot of people may feel like the strategy you are using is an end-around.  We know that because Tim is publicly financed, he can no longer fundraise.  So this is your way of finding an end-around to fundraise in a different kind of a way. Do you see it that way?"

Lane Hunt: I don't see it that way. We are fully committed to Tim's public financing and this is part of how public financing is set up in the city and that is the system we are using.

Some of Keller's opponents have more cash on hand. At the last reporting period, Keller had $227,000. Brian Colón had $535,000. Ricardo Chaves had $373,000.

Public financing is new to Albuquerque. This is only the third mayoral election cycle where public financing has been available to candidates. If this fundraising method were to be challenged, the city's Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices is the only authority that can investigate and make a determination whether this all checks out or not.

Credits

Chris Ramirez

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

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