The city’s Ethics and Campaign Review Board on Thursday dismissed Mayor Alan Webber’s complaint that accused a Spanish fraternal organization and two veterans groups of unlawful political advocacy on behalf of his opponent.

Board members went into executive session to discuss the allegations and then voted 4-0 against the complaint. Board member Kristina Martinez abstained because she works in the law firm representing Webber.

Webber’s campaign claimed Union Protectíva de Santa Fé, Veterans of Foreign Wars 2951 and American Legion Post 1 acted as political committees for his rival JoAnne Vigil Coppler but failed to register as such, enabling them to not disclose funding sources and other information.

Those actions violated the city’s codes and turned these organizations into covert influence peddlers, according to the complaint. But Union Protectíva’s attorney Scott Fuqua argued that the group’s primary purpose is not politics and, therefore, it can’t be a political committee, so none of the alleged infractions apply.

“Those provisions are off the table,” Fuqua said.

His arguments swayed board members.

“Their principal purpose … is not to function as political action committees,” board member Paul Biderman said. “They don’t meet the definition of a political action committee.”

In a statement, Union Protectíva President Virgil Vigil celebrated the ruling.

“I am pleased to see justice and the rule of law prevail today,” Vigil said, “especially since so many of us veterans unjustly targeted by Mayor Webber served our country to preserve those American ideals and freedoms.”

At the same time, Webber’s camp expressed disappointment.

“We respect the board’s decision but respectfully disagree,” Sascha Guinn Anderson, Webber’s campaign spokeswoman, said in a statement. “All entities that engage in negative campaigning should disclose their donors so there is transparency to the voters.”

Attorney Jeff Herrera, representing Webber’s campaign, contended the groups’ messages bashing the mayor made clear they opposed him as a candidate.

“The issue before the board today is straightforward,” Herrera said. “Whether Santa Fe voters have the right to know who is trying to influence the campaigns to elect the officials that govern this city.”

The messaging further met the definition of political action because it was done within 60 days of the election, Herrera said, arguing that signs disparaging the mayor are still posted in yards.

The groups’ political motives required them to register with the City Clerk’s Office before distributing materials and posting messages, Herrera said.

Herrera was referring to a widely circulated social media and newspaper ad that mocks CHART, a city-led effort to address art and monuments that many Indigenous residents say glorify Spanish conquest.

The words making up the acronym were changed from Culture, History, Art, Reconciliation and Truth to “Cancelling Hispanic Arts Religious Traditions.”

VFW Post 2951 and American Legion Post 1 are listed as sponsors of the ad, which also has appeared on yard signs.

The complaint also cited an ad that Union Protectíva placed in the Santa Fe Reporter, calling Webber a Marxist who’s trying to divide Santa Fe.

But Fuqua countered that spending $250 on an advertisement doesn’t make a group a political organization. It’s simply exercising its constitutional right to criticize an elected leader, he said.

Attorney Gregory Ross, representing VFW, said the group’s members were merely expressing their outrage at the mayor paving the way for vandals to tear down the obelisk, a memorial to veterans.

The language in the CHART posters is free speech and doesn’t tell anyone who to vote for, Ross said, calling the ethics complaint an attempt to harass those who say things the mayor dislikes.

Ross said he had nothing against Webber personally and has worked with him on projects that benefited everyone involved.

“It’s very unfortunate that the mayor felt [it] necessary to make false allegations against the VFW,” Ross said.

This ethics complaint was one of three filed in an increasingly combative mayoral race.

In one complaint, Republican candidate Alexis Martinez Johnson claimed that an email Webber sent touting his “hose down” with the Santa Fe Fire Department was using an event paid for by tax dollars to promote his campaign.

The ethics board dismissed her complaint in August, saying she had failed to show an ethics violation. On Wednesday, Union Protectíva filed a complaint that accused the mayor of bullying and general abuse of power.

The group’s leaders insist the action is not to retaliate against the mayor for his now-dismissed complaint against them.

Correction: This story has been amended to reflect the following correction. A previous version of this story included an incorrect name of the attorney representing Mayor Alan Webber's campaign. The attorney's name is Jeff Herrera. 

(14) comments

Sam Finn

“All entities that engage in negative campaigning should disclose their donors so there is transparency to the voters.”

Mayor Webber could disclose the names of his donors this year, and in his 2018 campaign. Where did that $300,000+ come from?

paul pacheco

The Ethics Board made the right decision; it was a slam dunk. Webber not only needs a new life but a new lawyer. It only made legal sense that any organization is not defined as a political action entity just because they oppose the current mayor for contra culture in-sensitivity and the practice of bad policies! Y que viva!

Joe Brownrigg

I understand your claim, but you should know that this is inconsistent with federal law and the law in many other states.

Mike Johnson

Excellent! Justice was served, and Webber exposed for what he is......

Chris Mechels

Speaking of ethics complaints; I've got an ethics complaint against Alan Webber, who has never been held to account for Elizabeth Dunham in Portland, Oregon. Alan was the PR guy, and good buddies with, Neil Goldschmidt, while Neil was "hanging out" with Dunham, a 13 year old student. Dunham's life was ruined, Neil was driven out of politics, and Alan, conveniently after Dunham's early death, decided to become SF Mayor. Why is he getting a pass on this??? He also takes credit for "Fast Company", forgetting Bill Taylor and Morty Zuckerman, the real brains and management at Fast Company. Alan was the PR guy, and that seems all he really knows. PR is Alan; Alan is PR. With a lust for power.

Joe Brownrigg

The historical distinction between attacking a person and attacking ideas espoused by a person should be maintained. This principal should apply to ANY words or actions. There should be no arguing over whether an organization is "primarily" a political organization and, therefore, subject to regulation by Campaign guidelines. Such an argument only muddles the discussion.

Do you disagree with what the Mayor has said? Fine. Attack the idea.

Do you dislike the Mayor personally? Keep it in the can.

We do not have an "ethics" and "campaign" committee. We have only a "campaign" committee. Do not use "ethics" unless you use and argue with "Ethics" principles. Neither the City nor the State does this. Both should eliminate this word from their usage in the political arenas.

Stefanie Beninato

I agree with your opinion concerinng the political activity of these nonprofits. The voters should know who is paying for these ads. Any group can now organize as a non profit and have as its stated goal a non political reason but then act politically. Why would an organization created primarily for other activities (burying the dead) would get in the middle of a culture war just before an election. Is the obelisk about Hispanic culture or about a war memorial to those who fought on the Union side in the US Civil War? The Ethics Committee does have some provisions re: ethics--cannot hire certain family members for contracts or supervise them but what is woefully inadequate is protection of the public from the deliberate lies of the city staff--there is something in the purpose section but the current city attorney seems oblivious to the legal principle that ALL sections of a law must be given effect. We will see what happens when the complaint against Liz Roybal and Susy Ceja for perjury is filed with the Ethics Board

William Craig

“Any group can now organize as a non profit and have as its stated goal a non political reason but then act politically.” Yes, and who paid the travel expenses for the out-of-town obelisk-topplers? One of sugar-daddy György’s many non-profit foundations, perhaps? What about sugar-daddy Branson’s tax-exempt Bail Project? Are they really non-political?

“Is the obelisk about Hispanic culture or about a war memorial to those who fought on the Union side in the US Civil War?” It was also about the U.S. soldiers who finally subdued the marauding Comanches who had been wreaking havoc from horseback on everyone else in the region, including many other tribes who considered the Comanches to be quite savage.

Tom Hyland

Excellent questions you've offered here, William. Really, who financed the mayor to be here? Regarding those turbulent times that birthed the Soldier's Monument I've recommended that folks read "Blood and Thunder" by Santa Fe author Hampton Sides. It's mostly a biography of Kit Carson but also a wide spectrum of the warring factions that collided during the conquest of the West. There WAS savagery, big time, and it was delivered by the white man, red man and brown man. If you've lived in northern New Mexico a spell you owe it to yourself to read this book.

Tom Hyland

I applaud this victory for Union Protectiva, VFW and the American Legion against a mayor who holds no allegiance or respect for what these groups represent and what they hold dear. Webber keeps on losing and let's hope his trajectory remains uninterrupted and complete. However, the status of the grossly damaged Soldier's Monument must be resolved. The Plaza is everyone's place and should not be utilized at ground zero for a fractional ideology. I recommended the obelisk be removed to the New Mexico Military History Museum and restored there. However, a better suggestion was offered by artist Bob Haozous to relocate the monument to the National Cemetery "where it belongs." I read this in an insightful book titled "The Myth of Santa Fe" written by Chris Wilson. Santa Fe will forever be a work in progress of styling and transformation to serve an ever-changing public. The lifetime of the Soldier's Monument at Plaza central has expired.

Miguel Perez

Santa Fe needs a mayor who respects the history and traditions of the native born people of Santa Fe. Mayor Webber just doesn’t get it, he has done enough harm already and it’s time for him to go.

Cheryl Odom

Petty politics.

Maria Bautista

Pretty Politics - Webber protected by women.

Richard Reinders

Viva Union Protectíva de Santa Fé. Viva la gente!

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