New Mexico

Complaint alleges inappropriate campaign contribution

A Bernalillo County resident alleges that an elected officer violated the county’s code of conduct by accepting a campaign donation from a “restricted donor” and requesting that the officer sit a scheduled vote involving that donor’s husband could.

The complaint adds a new wrinkle to Tuesday’s decision by the commission on who it will appoint to fill a vacancy in the New Mexico Senate — a decision that has already sparked power struggles.

Carl Peterson’s complaint demands that County Commissioner Charlene Pyskoty withdraw from discussions and debates over whether Antonio “Moe” Maestas should be appointed to the Albuquerque West Side Senate seat, arguing that their participation would harm Maestas and his wife – the lobbyist Vanessa Alarid, whose company could benefit – made the largest single contribution to Pyskoty’s re-election campaign.

Maestas, a Democrat, already serves in the state House of Representatives but has publicly expressed interest in taking a seat in the state Senate recently vacated by Jacob Candelaria. State law requires that the county commission appoint someone to serve the remaining two years of Candelaria’s term.

State senators have larger districts and each year receive more discretionary capital spending to distribute. They also have longer terms – four years versus two for representatives.

The county was accepting applications for the Senate seat through Thursday, although it’s unclear who applied because the county was closed Friday for Veterans Day. The appointment is on Tuesday’s agenda for the commission.

Peterson’s complaint concerns a campaign contribution Pyskoty received from Alarid Consulting.

According to campaign finance reports, Alarid’s company made a $5,000 in-kind donation to Pyskoty’s unsuccessful re-election campaign this year’s primary. It accounted for more than a quarter of the $18,165 in donations Pyskoty’s campaign had in 2022.

Alarid has championed Western Albuquerque Land Holdings. WALH and its development team intend to build a proposed 38,000+ home community called Santolina in western Bernalillo County. The extensive development has required – and continues to require – various permits from County Commissioners.

Peterson claims Alarid meets the county’s definition of a “restricted donor,” particularly someone who is “seeking official action … through an elected official.” The district code of conduct prohibits candidates and elected officials from accepting campaign contributions greater than $1,000 from a “restricted donor.”

Pyskoty has said she has no relationship with Alarid or Maestas, but has declined to answer questions from the Journal as to whether she communicated with Alarid about the post or whether she knew if it was from a specific client.

Pyskoty did not respond to messages from the Journal asking for comment on Friday.

Peterson’s complaint also alleges that Pyskoty failed to properly report the donation and reported it weeks later as required by law. Since it was not “lawfully made and reported under the Electoral Code,” Peterson argues, it was therefore a “gift.” The county code also prohibits candidates and officers from accepting gifts from a “restricted donor” over $100.

Peterson does not live in Pyskoty County or within the state Senate county boundaries, but said he believes Pyskoty has a conflict of interest and wants to speak up.

“I think it’s an important issue. Unfortunately, there are, dare I say, corrupt elements living in our government,” he told the Journal Friday. “I think as a citizen, if you see something that should be investigated, you have to raise the flag and say, ‘Let’s see if we can’t get to the bottom of this.'”

Peterson provided the Journal with a copy of the complaint, which he personally delivered to county headquarters Thursday.

Alarid declined to comment on the complaint on Friday, saying she saw no evidence it was filed or that the county was investigating.

“Unless something has been filed and forwarded for investigation, there is nothing to respond to,” Alarid said in a statement to the Journal.

Alarid said her firm’s contribution to Pyskoty was not made on behalf of any of her clients.

“I make my own money and I choose who I support,” she said in a statement.

The choice of Candelaria’s successor has sparked a dispute within the Commission. Three members — Psykoty, Steven Michael Quezada and Walt Benson — tried to expedite the decision by attempting to schedule it about three weeks earlier than commission chair Adriann Barboa had planned. Their unsuccessful efforts, led by Pyskoty, angered Commissioner Debbie O’Malley, whose district covers most of the Senate district, and expressed a desire to take more time. The schedule sparked a heated debate during the final commission meeting, leading O’Malley to call Pyskoty a “slut” shortly after the meeting adjourned, while commissioners and district staff were still in the chambers.

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