Ethics complaint alleges group failed to disclose donors, and suggests connection to prominent lobbyist

Over the course of May and early June this year, a new group called the “Council for a Competitive New Mexico” (CCNM) spent over $130,000 on a media campaign supporting a group of incumbent state senators, most of whom would go on to lose as part of a progressive wave in June’s Democratic primary. The media campaign included several negative mailers and automated phone-calls against candidates opposing the incumbents while the public was left in the dark about who organized the group and who funded the media campaign. 

This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is republished with permission. Now, an ethics complaint filed this week with the Secretary of State’s office alleges that CCNM broke New Mexico’s election code by not disclosing its donors. 

Neri Holguin, campaign manager for two of the candidates who won during the June primary, Siah Correa Hemphill and Pam Cordova, writes that the group may have violated the New Mexico Elections Code by not reporting who paid for the negative advertising and phone calls against those candidates as well as others. 

“It was a deliberate attempt to make it as difficult as possible for voters to know who’s behind these hits on our candidates,” said Holguin in an interview. “They knew the rules enough to file as an independent expenditure (IE) and to list their expenditures, and so why not list contributors?”

“Voters need to know that, and we have no way of knowing that right now,” said Holguin. At the core of Holquin’s complaint is a new state law that triggers certain groups to disclose publicly and quickly who the donors are that paid for their electioneering activities if the costs are larger than a state-prescribed threshold. 

Holguin said she believes CCNM was created by a group of people, including prominent New Mexico lobbyist Vanessa Alarid–whom she mentioned by name in the complaint–that have used similar tactics in recent years to influence elections at the local and state level without disclosing publicly who is funding the activities in a timely fashion.Chevonne Alarid, the president of the nonprofit group, however, said disclosure isn’t necessary  until it files its annual report to the Internal Revenue Service.

Despite no corporate money pledges, Democratic federal candidates keep taking it

While every Democrat running for federal office in New Mexico this year pledged to not accept money from corporate political action committees, they still benefit from corporate giving. 

Funneled to their campaigns from intermediary PACs that gather corporate money and then redirect it to candidates for office, the donations shine a light on the complications Democrats face when attempting to distance themselves from corporate special interests while still raising enough money to run winning campaigns. Since the landmark Citizens United vs. FEC Supreme Court ruling in 2010– which opened political campaigns to unrestricted outside spending in elections by corporations, nonprofits, unions, and other organizations—a movement to enact reforms that would limit corporate influence in elections has grown, and found a home within the Democratic Party. One group, called End Citizens United, encourages candidates to pledge not to accept donations from corporate PACs. Federal rules already prohibit candidates from taking donations from corporations directly.

Torres Small raises big money once again in 2nd Congressional District race

Congressional candidate Xochitl Torres Small once again dominated fundraising in the federal races, according to the latest campaign finance reports, covering Oct. 1 to Oct. 17. The Democrat seeking the 2nd Congressional District seat reported raising nearly $950,000 in those 17 days. The hefty campaign finance haul brought the water attorney’s total tally to over $3.8 million for the open congressional seat.

Democrats hold big cash advantages in federal races

While Democrats led the way in fundraising in the latest quarter, federal campaign finance reports filed Monday show, one candidate considerably outraised the rest. NM Political Report first reported that Xochitl Torres Small, a Democrat seeking the 2nd Congressional District seat, raised over $1.9 million yesterday. Her fundraising total was $650,000 more than all three candidates for U.S. Senate combined raised in that same time period. Torres Small spent over $1.3 million and finished with $1.1 million cash on hand for the final few weeks of the race. Her opponent, Republican State Rep. Yvette Herrell, raised $564,000 and spent $245,000, leaving her with $419,000 cash on hand for the final stretch.

Torres Small campaign announces $1.9 million raised in the last quarter

Democrats across the nation have announced massive fundraising hauls as the midterm elections near. This includes New Mexico. Water lawyer Xochitl Torres Small announced a record-breaking $1.9 million raised in the last quarter in her race to represent the state’s 2nd Congressional District. Campaign finance reports for federal races are due tomorrow and cover the period from July 1 to Sept. 30.

Out-of-state donors pour cash into Democrats’ state races

This story was co-published by USA Today. ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In New Mexico’s Statehouse, Jimmie Hall is something of a fixture: The veteran Republican representative has served District 28 in this sun-dried, high-desert city for seven terms.
For much of Hall’s tenure, the district, which lies along the foothills of the Sandia Mountains on the eastern edge of Albuquerque, has been reliably conservative, so much so that he’s coasted to victory without having to face any Democratic opponent in his three most recent re-election bids. This story originally appeared at The Center for Public Integrity and is reprinted with permission. But this year is different. In November, Hall will square off against Melanie Stansbury, who is among a slew of young, progressive Democrats running for office at every level of government across the country.

The hidden money funding the midterms

Allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used a blind spot in campaign finance laws to undercut a candidate from their own party this year — and their fingerprints remained hidden until the primary was already over. Super PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited sums of money in elections, are supposed to regularly disclose their funders. But in the case of Mountain Families PAC, Republicans managed to spend $1.3 million against Don Blankenship, a mustachioed former coal baron who was a wild-card candidate for a must-win West Virginia Senate seat, in May without revealing who was supplying the cash. The move worked like this: Start a new super PAC after a deadline for reporting donors and expenses, then raise and spend money before the next report is due. Timed right, a super PAC might get a month or more undercover before being required to reveal its donors.

‘Burque Bucks’ campaign clears first hurdle

Albuquerque voters are one step closer to voting on a change to the city charter that would increase city funds to some municipal candidates. At a press conference outside city hall on Tuesday, a coalition of local non-profits announced they collected nearly 28,000 petition signatures aimed at getting a public finance voucher program on the general election ballot in November. The proposed program, called Democracy Dollars and more recently dubbed Burque Bucks, would provide each Albuquerque resident a $25 voucher to contribute to the publicly-financed candidate of their choice. Former state senator Dede Feldman is a proponent of the proposal. The Albuquerque Democrat said political races get bogged down in high-spending corporations and political special interest groups.

Groups want ‘Democracy Dollars’ to bolster ABQ publicly-financed candidates

On New Mexico’s primary election day, in almost triple-digit heat, former state Senator Dede Feldman stood outside an Albuquerque middle school with a signature-filled clipboard in hand. It’s not uncommon to see people gathering signatures outside of polling locations for various political efforts. But Feldman wasn’t there to get anyone elected. The former four-term lawmaker, shaded by a wide brimmed hat, was collecting signatures to get a public campaign finance initiative on the ballot in November for Albuquerque voters. The initiative that Feldman and others hope to get on the ballot would increase money to at least some municipal candidates in Albuquerque who take part in the city’s public financing system.

Dem gubernatorial candidates spend big as election day nears

As last-minute attacks swirl and campaigns shift efforts to get voters to the polls, candidates filed their final campaign finance reports before the Tuesday primary election. U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham once again led the way in fundraising, and she also spent the most money out of all four gubernatorial candidates in the most recent campaign finance period, which spanned from May 8 to May 29. She raised over $215,000, more than twice her two Democratic opponents combined, and spent nearly $710,000. She finished May with nearly $1.1 million cash on hand. State Sen. Joe Cervantes spent nearly $575,000, and finished with nearly as much campaign cash in his coffers as Lujan Grisham.