When candidates file their campaign finance reports Monday, there will be all types of ways to analyze the data. One will be to look for the biggest donors. But identifying them can be tricky. Even though New Mexico passed campaign contribution limits in 2009 after several high-profile elected officials went to jail for corruption, people still have the potential to contribute more than the limits by giving through companies they own, or combining with family members to give. This year New Mexico’s campaign contribution limit for statewide office is $5,500 in both the primary and general election cycles.
Oil and gas industry revenues pay a huge share of the money that goes into the state budget. And lobbyists for big oil companies pay a huge amount of campaign contributions to New Mexico politicians. An analysis of lobbyist expense reports filed in recent days with the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office shows oil companies dominate the list of the largest donors to campaigns and political committees since last October. By far the biggest contributor among lobbyists in the new batch of reports was the Austin, Texas-based Stephen Perry, Chevron USA’s state government affairs manager for Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. Perry listed $183,250 in contributions.
A new report may shed some light on how New Mexico voters feel about campaign public financing and groups who raise money independently of candidates. It comes as ethics complaints related to Albuquerque’s election stack up and congressional and gubernatorial candidates fill their campaign accounts. The 2017 Campaign Finance Report released by the University of New Mexico shows most registered voters favor public financing and making public financing available to more candidates. The report also shows many New Mexicans disagree that independent expenditure groups should be able to raise and spend money unregulated as a form a free speech. The report from the political science department found 70 percent of voters would like public financing to be available for more elected offices.
In Albuquerque’s city hall earlier this week, dozens of people watched lawyers argue before an elections and ethics board over whether a city council candidate intentionally defrauded citizens of about $38,000. City Council candidate Javier Benavidez qualified for public financing after his campaign collected almost 400 qualified contributions of $5 along with signatures from each contributor. Prominent Albuquerque attorney Pat Rogers argued Benavidez purposefully allowed his campaign to forge signatures and falsify contributions and called the campaign’s actions a “very serious issue.”
In his opening statement, he accused Benavidez of “cheating.”
Rogers argued that Benavidez did not correctly collect contributions, and therefore defrauded taxpayers by using public money for his campaign. Rogers is a former Republican National Committeeman and former go-to counsel for Gov. Susana Martinez. Benavidez is the former executive director of the SouthWest Organizing Project, a group that works on racial and economic justice issues.
Ricardo Chaves says he won’t accept any outside cash to help in his quest to become mayor of Albuquerque. “I won’t take any campaign money, because I don’t want to be beholden,” Chaves said in a recent interview. “I want to represent all the people not just the special interests.”
So the 81-year-old retired Albuquerque businessman who founded Parking Company of America is relying on a different pile of money to push his mayoral candidacy over the line: his own. To date, Chaves has pumped more than $500,000 into his campaign war chest, mostly through loans. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission.
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.
Gov. Susana Martinez, who has touted herself as a champion of transparency, on Thursday vetoed legislation that would have required lobbyists to return to disclosing more information publicly about money they spend on public officials. The Legislature passed a law that weakened those rules last year but sought to correct what some lawmakers called an inadvertent mistake during this year’s 60-day session, which ended last month. This post originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. Martinez’s veto means lobbyists won’t need to report expenses on lawmakers and other public officials under $100, as they did prior to the current law taking effect. Martinez explained her reasoning in a one-page veto message.
After six years of trying to require “dark money” organizations and other independent-expenditure groups to report their political backers, supporters of campaign-finance reform got their bill through the state House of Representatives on Monday night. The House on Monday passed Senate Bill 96, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, and Rep. Jim Smith, D-Sandia Park. The bipartisan vote was 41 to 24. Six Republicans joined with the 35 Democrats to vote for the bill. The Senate had already passed the bill, but it will have to go back there for consideration of House amendments.
The state Senate voted Wednesday to require more transparency about the political spending of so-called “dark money” groups while also doubling the amount of money that individuals can donate to candidates for public office. Senate Bill 96 has won backing from campaign finance reform advocates who have pushed for years to close loopholes that allow groups to spend large sums of money to influence elections without having to disclose their donors. But a section that would allow candidates to raise far more money from private individuals prompted one Democrat to split with his party and oppose the proposal altogether. “People want money out of politics,” said Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces. “Growing our individual contribution limits is the wrong direction.”
The biggest spender among lobbyists in New Mexico last year was not employed by an oil company or a tobacco company or a mining company. Instead, it was a New York-based advocacy group for gun safety that spent $219,500. The reports, filed this week with the Secretary of State’s Office, show that Pedro Morillas, regional director for Everytown for Gun Safety, spent more than any other lobbyist in the state. And he completely outgunned the National Rifle Association, which spent just over $10,000 on New Mexico candidates last year. Overall, lobbyists spent more than $1.7 million in the state in 2016.