Out-of-state money in local elections is nothing new. Statewide and legislative races in New Mexico are often funded, to varying degrees, by individuals or Political Action Committees from other parts of the country.
With less than three months before the mayoral race, candidates are filing their campaign contribution reports with varying donation amounts from around New Mexico—and in some cases all around the country.
Both New Mexico and Albuquerque campaign finance laws allow for out of city and out of state contributions.
Common Cause New Mexico Executive Director Viki Harrison said members of the public may not like the idea of out-of-state money funding a mayoral campaign, but that ultimately without a clear instance of quid pro quo it’s allowed.
“You’ve got to show a clear line of corruption before you can say these people can’t donate,” Harrison said.
In recent municipal and statewide elections, New Mexico candidates received support from donors ranging from progressive billionaire funder George Soros to a conservative PAC run by the East-Central Texas-based brother of U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce.
Ahead of the October election, Albuquerque mayoral candidate Brian Colón has raised more than $260,000 between April and July. Of that money about 20 percent came from donors in cities other than Albuquerque.
Some of the high dollar donations to Colón’s campaign have direct ties to Albuquerque. Allegiance Realty Corporation, for example, is based in North Carolina and donated more than $5,000 to Colón. But Allegiance owns three large commercial buildings in Albuquerque.
Of the almost $60,000 Colón’s campaign raised from outside Albuquerque, just less than half came from donors outside of New Mexico. One notable contributor includes Bryon Paez, who challenged Martin Heinrich in the 2008 Democratic primary for Congress. Heinrich went on to win that primary as well as the general election and, later, a U.S. Senate race. Paez, who previously lived in New Mexico, is currently a deputy director for the U.S. Department of the Navy and donated $5,000 to Colón’s campaign between April and July.
In an interview with NM Political Report, Colón said he considers Paez a close personal friend who just happens to work and live outside New Mexico.
“I think that when you spend your whole life in Albuquerque you establish relationships and there’s a relationship behind every one of those contributions that is personal and they are friends,” Colón said.
Even New Mexico State Auditor Tim Keller, who opted to run on public funds, has received money from outside Albuquerque.
Running with public funds prohibits Keller’s campaign from raising money beyond the $380,000 it received from the city. But outside groups, or what are called “measure finance committees,” can still raise and spend money in support of a candidate or ballot measure. Measure finance committees are similar to some PACs, but the people running them are not supposed to coordinate with respective candidates.
One such committee, ABQ Forward Together, was created specifically to “Support Tim Keller’s Bid For mayor of Albuquerque.” ABQ Forward Together has raised more than $20,000 from individual donors since its creation in June, and its largest donation so far has come from out of state. That $8,000 donation came from New York-based Paul Rudd — not the actor. In fact, about half the money the group raised came from donors who listed an address outside Albuquerque, like Rudd or former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alan Webber from Santa Fe.
ABQ Forward Together chairperson Neri Holguin told NM Political Report many contributions from outside Albuquerque came from donors who know Keller personally and agree with his politically progressive vision for Albuquerque.
“I think that people know Tim,” Holguin said. “He has a record as a state senator.”
Holguin, who ran Keller’s 2008 campaign for state senate, added that as the largest city in the state, Albuquerque serves as a sort of flagship city for New Mexico.
“It doesn’t help our state if Albuquerque is in the news for bad things,” Holguin said, citing Keller’s progressive vision for the city.
As for Rudd, he has donated about $40,000 to various groups and campaigns in New Mexico in the past several years.
Contribution records show that Rudd has a history of donating to progressive PACs and candidates around the country including New Mexico. Rudd, Holguin said, also is originally from New Mexico. NM Political Report was unable to contact Rudd, but did confirm he owns New York tech company Adaptive Analytics LLC.
Keller’s campaign management said they have not coordinated with ABQ Forward Together, but Keller himself did weigh-in on why he thinks so many outside of the city are interested in the race. In an email to NM Political Report, Keller said Albuquerque is the state’s “economic engine.”
“There’s a lot at stake in this election and we’re seeing increased interest all around,” Keller wrote. “We’re also at a pivotal moment for our city and state and this election will set the tone for decades about whether or not we challenge and break the status quo with big ideas that truly move us forward.”
But Colón told NM Political Report it’s over-thinking things to say contributions from those outside Albuquerque are anything other than the result of friendships.
“I think the number of contributors shows it’s not a bigger issue than simply saying New Mexico is a small state and relationships matter,” Colón said.
Harrison said the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Citizens United v. FEC did not directly address friends and relatives donating from a different state, but that “it made other courts look at it that way.”
“After Citizens United, people can do with their money what they want as long as they’re within the [contribution] limits.” Harrison said.
Four other mayoral candidates reported contributions from outside of Albuquerque, but very few of these large contributions came from outside the state. Many contributions to all of the candidates came from donors with addresses other than Albuquerque, but according to the city charter contributors are required to list the address of their respective employer when the contribute to a city campaign.
Other mayoral candidates list multiple contributors from adjacent cities in the Albuquerque metro area like Tijeras, Rio Rancho and Corrales. Candidates also listed contributions from other states, but most of those donations are relatively small dollar amounts.
Overall, the money has been pouring into this mayoral race at an unprecedented rate.
Altogether, seven of the eight candidates who are not using public money have already raised $1.5 million. On top of that, Ricardo Chaves personally loaned his campaign more than $500,000 dollars and Keller received $380,000 through public financing. All told, candidates have raised almost $2.5 million, for a mayoral election that’s still less than three months away.