ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A publicly financed Albuquerque mayoral candidate is facing scrutiny after his campaign manager reportedly solicited nearly $30,000 in cash donations.

A KOB-TV in Albuquerque investigation (https://goo.gl/VEqFT5 ) into Tim Keller’s campaign reports found dozens of individuals contributed thousands of dollars, and the campaign listed them as “in-kind” contributions.

Records show some contributions came from high-profile Democrats like former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish.

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

By receiving public financing, Keller cannot legally raise any more money.

In a letter obtained by the station, Keller’s campaign manager and Rio Strategies partner, Jessie Lane Hunt, asked a supporter to “make a check out to Rio Strategies” to support Keller.

“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!” the note read.

The money goes to buying water, clipboards and office space, Hunt said.

“This is a broad grassroots campaign, and those in-kind contributions go to support the broad grassroots campaign,” Hunt told KOB-TV. “From volunteers, water, clipboards, stamps to mail to voters, the communication we do to communicate Tim’s vision.”

News of Keller’s “in-kind” contributions in the nonpartisan mayoral race drew condemnation from the Republican Party of New Mexico, which accused Keller of violating state campaign finance laws.

“The man who is supposed to keep New Mexico’s finances clean is breaking the very law that he helped write,” party spokesman Dominic Pacheco said. “Keller is accepting monetary contributions improperly designated as in-kind contributions in order to subvert the law that clearly states he is not allowed to accept cash contributions as a taxpayer-funded candidate.”

Keller, a Democrat, is currently the state auditor.

In a statement Friday, Hunt said, “Tim Keller has always been committed to open and ethical government and our grassroots campaign is in full compliance with the law, including adhering to the $38,019.10 cap on such contributions. This is the exact same procedure used by the current mayor when he used public financing.”

James Hallinan, a spokesman for New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, said the office has received a criminal referral related to the allegations against Keller and is reviewing it.

Joey Keefe, a spokesman for Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, said the office didn’t have jurisdiction over municipal elections and would not comment.


Information from: KOB-TV, http://www.kob.com