Ethics board finds Stop the Stadium violated city charter
Albuquerque’s ethics board ruled Friday that the Stop the Stadium campaign violated the city’s charter by not formally registering as an opponent to the city government’s effort to borrow $50 million to help pay for a New Mexico United soccer stadium.
The Board of Ethics voted unanimously Friday, Dec. 3, in favor of Downtown resident Joaquin Baca’s complaint against Bex Hampton, one of the organizers with Stop the Stadium.
Baca filed the complaint two weeks before the Nov. 2 election. About 65% of Albuquerque voters voted against the bond issue.
Baca alleged that Hampton failed to register with the city government as a Measure Finance Committee, failed to disclose identifying sponsor information on flyers and signs used during the stadium campaign, failed to file a copy of the fliers and other materials with the city, and failed to file as many as six campaign finance reports.
Baca and a witness present at the hearing, Eli Il Yong Lee, estimated Stop the Stadium’s spending to total about $1,200.
“This person or group of persons decided that they could play by a different set of rules than everyone else and not file as a Measure Finance Committee and follow all the laws and regulations required of a Measure Finance Committee,” Baca said at the hearing.
Baca also asked the board to impose fines on Hampton and require her to provide a full accounting of Stop the Stadium’s income and spending. But the board chose not to levy any fines or reprimands against her.
“I move that the board find in favor of the complainant but that there be no imposition of any fine or reprimand upon the respondent,” board member Kristina Caffrey said.
It is unclear exactly why the board chose not to fine Hampton, but her attorney Nicholas Rimmer had argued that any such punishment would violate her rights to free speech under the state and federal constitutions.
“Any sanction awarded against her violates the U.S. Constitution, the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Due Process Clause, and the corresponding provisions of the New Mexico Constitution,” Rimmer wrote in a brief filed Monday, Nov. 29. There is no compelling interest by the state to limit her free speech by disciplining her in this case, he wrote.
Baca said Hampton has every right to voice her opinion and that the case is not about free speech.
“Bex Hampton and Stop the Stadium clearly qualified as a Measure Finance Committee and violated the rules,” he said. “I was disappointed they did not require her to disclose who was funding the group’s activities.”
The board will publish a written decision in the case “as quickly as we can,” Board Chair Andy Schultz said after the vote. They deliberated the case in executive session, which was closed to the public, for about 36 minutes before returning to the public meeting and taking the vote.
Rimmer asked the board to dismiss Baca’s complaint, but Baca argued doing so “would open the floodgates for any entity moving forward to raise and spend funds in support or opposition to a measure, without disclosing to voters the sources of those contributions nor any expenditures made.”