City Council Hopefuls Try Public Financing

* Decreases look of corruption, advocates say

By Peter Rice

Four City Council candidates are taking on the role of political guinea pigs, pursuing public financing in the debut year of the program.

Public financing of political campaigns requires some extra legwork of candidates, but advocates say it decreases both the perception of and actual corruption, and promotes greater faith in the electoral process.

Incumbent Councilor Debbie O'Malley was the first to sign up in recent weeks, followed late Friday afternoon by Katherine Martinez, who is also running for the District 2 seat that covers the North Valley.

In District 6, which covers the Southeast Heights, Joan Griffin and Rey Gardu?o are starting the process of landing public funds.

Thus far, the participation only involves two of the four council seats open this fall. Incumbents Brad Winter and Craig Loy (who hasn't committed to running again) said they wouldn't use the program.

But former City Councilor Eric Griego, who originally sponsored the measure, is tickled by the results anyway.

"Even if one candidate uses it, I think it's great," he said, adding that he was especially happy to see O'Malley, who is in a position to raise plenty of private money, on board.

Public-finance candidates must jump through some hoops to get their money. By the end of this month, they have to collect $5 donations from 1 percent of the registered voters in their districts. They also must collect signatures from 2 percent of the registered voters, though the same is required of all candidates.

Advocates of the system say it will help candidates avoid conflicts of interest, either real or perceived. It also works to even things out, said Martinez, who by day works for the Home Builders Association of Central New Mexico. She is going up against a high-profile incumbent, O'Malley, but she will do it with an equal warchest.

"We're already starting off with the exact same amount of money," she said. "I think that's important."

Don't expect the infant program to function without a hitch. It's not clear, for example, just how much the program will cost from year to year. That depends on how many candidates use it. Also, if other candidates raise more than the publicly financed candidates, then the city will try to match it, but only if money is available.

Right now, the city's campaign fund stands at $450,000. If all four candidates qualified, that would cost the fund $117,400.

Assistant City Clerk Kelli Fulgenzi also points to this potentially sticky situation: If a candidate gets the required $5 donations, then he or she will receive the campaign funds. But if they then fail to collect enough signatures, "you have to give the money back," she said.

That puts the city in the awkward position of collecting money that may have already been spent.

"Compared to not having a system I think that's a reasonable price to pay," Griego said. "We should expect that there are things that we have to overcome."

But one person's glad tidings is another's harbinger of a big fat bill.

"It could become very expensive for the taxpayers of Albuquerque," Loy said.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on council candidates who want public funding. They can sign up for a few more weeks, but they must assemble their $5 contributions by May 31.

"I think you may get a few more," Griego said.

See the article on Albuquerque Tribune website

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