Democratic County Commissioners Frank Pando and Helen Baca have both accepted campaign donations from Cornell Companies Inc., which is currently involved in contract negotiations for the county jail.
Pando, running in District 1, accepted $2,000 from Cornell, while Baca, in District 3, received $500 as campaign donations. Cornell is in the middle of contract negotiations with the county commission. Several attempts were made to contact Baca, but she was unavailable for comment.
“Ethically, that’s really questionable — to accept money from someone who you are negotiating a contract with,” said Bob Johnson, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government in Albuquerque.
“My recommendation is that the public officials shape up and not accept money from people they are negotiating contracts with,” Johnson said.
Neither Pando nor Lawrence Barreras, senior warden with Cornell, felt there was anything wrong with the campaign donations.
“I didn’t feel it was a conflict of interest,” Pando said. “I’ll take your money, but I’ll vote my conscience. I will accept money with that condition.
“If you want to, donate to my campaign. But if you expect something from me, then you have another think coming. I am not for sale.”
Cornell’s representative, Barreras, said, “Our company has always tried to help people who are running for office in areas where we are doing business.
“It really didn’t have anything to do with the current contract.”
The public campaign donation records of all candidates running for county commissioner were examined. Pando and Baca were the only ones accepting contributions from Cornell.
Pando’s overall campaign contributions totaled $3,650, while Baca’s only listed donation was $500 from Cornell.
Republican candidate Joan Artiaga of District 3 collected donations totaling $1,573, including $1,000 from developer Nathen Twining.
“Anybody who knows me knows I can’t be bought for a few dollars,” Artiaga said when asked if a contribution from a developer might be a conflict of interest. Commissioners make decisions regarding zoning and development of property.
“For me, I don’t think it’s a conflict,” Artiaga said on Friday. “I’ll always vote my conscience.”
In District 3, Democrat Chris Martinez and Republican Alberto Carrillo both filed primary election statements saying that they did not expect campaign expenses to total more than $1,000. Therefore, they were not required to list campaign donations. Democrat Paul Trujillo received $1,883 in donations, none connected to developers or Cornell.
In District 1, Democrat Mel Hawkins also filed a statement that did not require him to list donations.
Democrat Carlos Montoya and Republican Mary Andersen, both of District 1, had no campaign donations on file as of May 30.