Who owns the New Mexico Legislature?
OK. That’s an unfair question. Let me rephrase.
Who are the big buyers of influence in the Legislature?
Energy companies and other business interests dominate the list of the top 30 largest donors to campaigns of incumbents and other candidates for the House and Senate this year.
Still, liberal interests are well-represented on the list by trial lawyers, labor unions and four newly formed political action committees financed with dollars from the left.
Some powerful legislators also spread plenty of money around to fellow lawmakers.
That’s according to an analysis of more than 27,000 donations totaling nearly $8.8 million reported this year by candidates for the Legislature. Candidates reported the contributions in filings with the state’s online Campaign Finance Information System.
All 112 seats in the New Mexico House and Senate were up for election this year, and there were more than 200 candidates.
The Legislature will convene in January for a 60-day session, and big campaign contributors will have their lobbyists there.
Words of caution:
In coming up with the top 30 list of biggest donors to legislative candidates, I excluded contributions made by political parties.
Also, the donations to candidates for the Legislature represent much but not all of the money spent to influence legislative elections.
So-called super PACs, which operate independently of candidates, spent money in the races. There also was “hidden money” – unreported independent expenditures by nonprofits and other groups that fall outside disclosure laws.
Of the nearly $8.8 million in contributions reported this year by legislative candidates, more than $5.5 million, or 63 percent, came from corporations and political committees.
The top 30 biggest donors accounted for more than one out of every five dollars given to the candidates.
Several energy companies made the list of top contributors to legislative candidates this year, just as they did four years ago.
ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Devon Energy and Occidental Petroleum made the list for 2012, as did PACs for utilities Public Service Company of New Mexico and New Mexico Gas Co.
Other business interests on the list: real estate agents, builders, car dealers, bankers, payday lenders, dentists, physicians and the Anheuser-Busch brewing company.
Susana PAC, a committee of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, also was in the top 30.
The Committee on Individual Responsibility, the PAC of the New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association and a longtime major donor, topped the list with at least $178,500 in contributions.
Four labor unions made the top 30: Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 412, the Albuquerque Teachers Federation and its affiliates, AFSCME and the National Education Association.
Also on the list are three PACs financed in part by organized labor: New Mexico Defense Fund, Forward New Mexico and 2012 PAC.
A PAC called Power also made the list. Its contributors include former Democratic U.S. Rep. Harry Teague and former Democratic Lt. Gov. Diane Denish.
Four legislative leadership committees made the list, including a committee of House Majority Leader Ken Martinez, D-Grants, who is in line to become House speaker in January, and a committee of Rep. Rick Miera, D-Albuquerque, who is replacing Martinez as majority leader.
Businesses, unions, PACs and others that give big to candidates for the Legislature also are large contributors to legislative leadership committees.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Thom Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-992-6280 in Santa Fe. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal