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Two governor candidates top $1 million in fundraising

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham

Rep. Steve Pearce

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – With more than a year before Election Day, New Mexico’s 2018 gubernatorial race is already shaping up as an expensive one.

Gubernatorial candidates Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, and Steve Pearce, a Republican, each reported Monday having raised more than $1 million in a recent six-month time period.

Two other Democratic candidates – state Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces and Albuquerque media executive Jeff Apodaca – also reported hefty hauls, with both candidates lending money to their campaigns.

Lujan Grisham, who is giving up her Albuquerque-area congressional seat to run for governor, reported taking in nearly $1.4 million in contributions during the reporting period, including big donations from Hollywood producer Jeffrey Katzenberg and New York hedge fund tycoon George Soros, a prominent backer of liberal causes.

She also received contributions from union groups, pueblos, medical marijuana businesses and a host of Democratic elected officials.

While Lujan Grisham now has about $1.6 million in her war chest, her campaign said most of the contributions she has received were for $100 or less.

“Our campaign continues to build the grass-roots momentum we’re going to need to retake the Governor’s Office next year for New Mexico’s working families,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Pearce, who entered the race in July and is the sole Republican running, reported receiving just over $1 million in contributions, including matching $11,000 contributions from former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his wife.

Pearce also got big donations from several businesses and individuals in the oil and natural gas industry.

The longtime southern New Mexico congressman, who is also giving up his seat to run for governor, has been embroiled in a legal fight with Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver over whether he can tap congressional funds in his bid for state office.

The contributions reported Monday don’t include any of the donations to his congressional campaign.

“Our record-setting pace proves that voters are excited about his plan to create jobs and put people to work, fix a broken education system, attack poverty at its roots and fight the crime that plagues New Mexico’s communities,” Pearce campaign spokesman Greg Blair said.

New Mexico political races have become increasingly expensive in recent years, even though campaign contribution limits were enacted in 2010. The maximum contribution to a statewide candidate for the 2018 cycle is set at $5,500 – for both the primary and general elections.

Longtime New Mexico political analyst Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., said the latest fundraising numbers suggest Democrats won’t be outspent the way they were four years ago, when Republican Gov. Susana Martinez won re-election.

“It shows you how things have changed – where Democrats are more optimistic about their chances in this campaign cycle than they were four years ago,” Sanderoff said.

Both Lujan Grisham and Pearce, he said, are proving to be adept fundraisers.

They’ve been “able to successfully raise significant sums of money, more than a year prior to the general election,” Sanderoff said.

Martinez, who is barred from seeking a third consecutive term in 2018, spent more than $8.7 million on her 2014 re-election bid – a figure that does not include spending by outside political committees on her behalf – and next year’s race to succeed her could be even costlier.

While Lujan Grisham reported the highest fundraising total among the four Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Apodaca and Cervantes weren’t far behind.

Apodaca, the son of former Gov. Jerry Apodaca, had not yet filed his report late Monday but said he had raised roughly $900,000, including a personal loan for $450,000. Candidate loans are not subject to the state’s campaign contribution limits.

And Cervantes reported raising roughly $555,000 in donations, with $400,000 of that amount coming from a personal loan he gave to his campaign and most of the rest coming from contributions from his family’s agribusiness in southern New Mexico.

The fourth Democratic candidate, political newcomer Peter DeBenedittis of Santa Fe, said he had received about $30,000 during the reporting period and was “proud” to be outspent by other candidates.

In other statewide races:

• Democrat George Muñoz of Gallup reported lending $100,000 to his campaign for state land commissioner – the bulk of his $120,000 in contributions. Muñoz, currently a state senator, is one of three Democrats vying for the office.

• Garrett VeneKlasen, another Democrat running for land commissioner, reported raising a little over $91,000 for his campaign.

• Republican Pat Lyons raised about $23,000 as part of his campaign for state land commissioner. Lyons, a member of the state Public Regulation Commission, already served two terms as land commissioner, the last of which ended in 2010.

The reports submitted before Monday’s deadline covered campaign spending and fundraising from early April through Oct. 2. The next reports are due in April 2018.