November 28, 2017

Judge: Pearce can use federal campaign funds in guv’s race

Congressman Steve Pearce speaking at the Western Republican Leadership Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2011. Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore cc

A federal judge said U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce can use money raised for federal office in his campaign for governor, giving his campaign a big boost.

The court order means that Pearce’s campaign coffers will grow by nearly $1 million, perhaps putting his campaign at over $2 million cash on hand.

Pearce had $911,000 cash on hand in his last campaign finance report six weeks ago.

The preliminary injunction also means that New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver cannot enforce state donation limits to the funds Pearce raised for his federal campaigns.

“The Secretary of State and her team are reviewing the details of the judge’s decision and will then consider next steps,” Secretary of State spokesman Joey Keefe said. “The Secretary of State has acted under the confines of current state law and any changes would require either legislative action or judicial intervention. Secretary Toulouse Oliver remains committed to enforcing New Mexico law.”

NM Political Report was unable to reach anyone with the Pearce campaign, but spokesman Greg Blair told the Albuquerque Journal, “Today’s ruling confirms what we have always maintained; the transfer of funds is fully compliant with the First Amendment, existing New Mexico law, a previous court ruling and a previous opinion from the Secretary of State’s office.”

Toulouse Oliver argued the limit of $5,500 should apply to the federal campaigns. Pearce responded by suing in federal court, saying Toulouse Oliver’s decision would violate his First Amendment rights. The Republican also said that Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, was showing a partisan bias.

A Democratic member of Congress running for governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, received the same advice from Toulouse Oliver. Lujan Grisham donated $5,500 from her federal campaign account, then donated the rest to other Democratic organizations.

Previously, a federal court allowed Bill Richardson to use his congressional campaign money. At the time, New Mexico did not have campaign contribution limits.

Pearce is the only announced Republican candidate. Lujan Grisham is one of four Democratic candidates, along with State Sen. Joseph Cervantes, former media executive Jeff Apodaca and alcohol prevention activist Peter DeBenedittis.