ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Republican State Leadership Committee, a deep-pocket player in New Mexico politics in recent years, has recently undergone leadership and structural changes.
Still, the Virginia-based RSLC, which works nationwide to get GOP candidates elected to state offices, says it “will wage an aggressive and well-funded effort in 2014.” The group says New Mexico is a target state.
Gov. Susana Martinez is co-chair of the RSLC’s Future Majority Caucus, whose goal is to recruit minorities and women to run as Republican candidates. Lt. Gov. John Sanchez and Secretary of State Dianna Duran serve on executive committees for the RSLC.
Martinez, Sanchez and Duran face re-election this year. Also at stake: the office of attorney general and all 70 seats in the state House of Representatives.
Matt Walter, president of the RSLC, declined to say exactly how the group will be involved in New Mexico this year on behalf of candidates.
“We don’t like to give away the playbook,” Walter says. “There is certainly a variety of options available.”
The RSLC in 2012 contributed nearly $1 million to Reform New Mexico Now, a super PAC, or political action committee, that was active in races for seats in the state Legislature. Reform New Mexico Now was led by Jay McCleskey, political adviser to Martinez. By law, Super PACs aren’t subject to state limits on the size of political donations because they operate independently of candidates.
The RSLC donated about $700,000 to Jim Bibb’s failed campaign for attorney general in 2006.
The group won’t be able to give that kind of money directly to a candidate this year in New Mexico; the statewide elections are the first with limits on the size of campaign contributions. A political committee can give no more than $10,400 to a candidate for statewide office.
The RSLC – formed in 2002 – raised and spent about $40 million nationwide in 2012. Major donors include big business, big pharma, big tobacco and big oil.
State elections here and elsewhere are increasingly being affected by money imported by both the right and left.
Ed Gillespie, who had served as the RSLC’s chairman since 2010, resigned in January to run for the U.S. Senate in Virginia. Gillespie was counselor to President George W. Bush and is a former chairman of the Republican National Committee.
The RSLC also announced in January that Chris Jankowski was stepping down as the organization’s president.
Bill McCollum, a former Florida attorney general and ex-member of the U.S. House, is the new chairman. He was formerly vice chairman and filled in for Gillespie when he went to work for the Mitt Romney presidential campaign in 2012.
Walter, the new president, was formerly managing director of communications and political affairs at the RSLC.
“This is as minimally a transition (in leadership) as you can possibly have,” Walter says.
The Republican Attorneys General Association also recently split from the RSLC to become a separate political committee.
As a group, attorneys general are very attractive to political donors because of their influence over government matters, but Walter says he isn’t ready to concede that the total of amount of money raised by the RSLC will decline as a result of the split.
Even if there is a decline, he says, the RSLC will still be able to maintain its past funding in support of candidates for other state offices.
Before the split with the attorneys general, the RSLC launched a website critical of state Auditor Hector Balderas, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for attorney general in the June primary. The presumptive Republican nominee is Susan Riedel of Las Cruces, a former state prosecutor and judge.
In 2012, the State Government Leadership Foundation, the policy arm of the RSLC, aired a TV ad in New Mexico titled “Teachers Unions: Bully Our Kids.” The ad opened with schoolchildren running from a man with the words “union official” on his jacket.
The RSLC is among a growing number of political groups operating separately from parties. Also part of that group is the Republican Governors Association, the biggest donor to Martinez’s gubernatorial campaign in 2010.
Help for Duran
Gregg Phillips, who helped manage a political committee that supported former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in his presidential bid in 2012, has formed a new committee to back candidates for secretary of state across the country, including New Mexico Secretary of State Duran in her bid for re-election this year.
“Duran has been an outspoken supporter of smart voting policies like voter ID and will prove a strong enforcer of similar popular policy,” Phillips said in a prepared statement.
Phillips’ new committee – SOS for SoS – is a super PAC, meaning it won’t coordinate with Duran’s campaign.
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