SANTA FE, N.M. — Some Democratic candidates for the state Legislature are getting a boost from independent expenditure committees spending tens of thousands of dollars trying to make the Roundhouse greener and more progressive.
Verde Voters PAC, a new political action committee formed by Conservation Voters New Mexico, is spending upwards of $50,000 this primary election season trying to oust two incumbent Democratic senators, Phil Griego of San Jose and David Ulibarri of Grants.
A separate, California-based PAC working to elect state Sen. Eric Griego to the U.S. House is backing five legislative candidates, including the challengers to Ulibarri and Democratic incumbents Sen. John Arthur Smith and Rep. Dona Irwin, both of Deming.
Progressive Kick says it plans to spend a total of about $15,000 to help Ulibarri’s opponent, Maxine Velasquez; Smith’s opponent, Larry P. Martinez; Irwin’s opponent, Louis Luna; Christine Trujillo, running for an open House seat; and Rep. Eleanor Chavez, running for an open Senate seat.
The independent expenditure committees, which have no spending limits but are not permitted to coordinate with the candidates or their campaigns, have been advertising and sending out mailers in the legislative races.
Griego and Ulibarri are members of the Senate Conservation Committee, where the breakdown is five Democrats to three Republicans but environmentalists can count on only one member’s vote on important issues.
“We feel New Mexicans deserve better, deserve a Senate Conservation Committee that will protect air, land and water,” said Sandy Buffett, executive director of Conservation Voters New Mexico.
Verde Voters PAC spent less than $1,000 on a phone survey early in the primary season for Genevieve Jackson, a Democrat challenging Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, but decided to focus on Griego and Ulibarri, said Leanne Leith of Conservation Voters New Mexico. It supports Jack Sullivan in Griego’s race and Velasquez in Ulibarri’s four-way primary.
Verde Voters PAC has taken in $86,050 in contributions and spent nearly $36,000, according to campaign finance reports filed with the secretary of state.
Its biggest contributions were $30,000 from the national, nonprofit League of Conservation Voters, and $25,000 from Santa Fe investor and author Sallie Bingham.
Progressive Kick, based in Oakland, Calif., is a federally registered PAC that’s “in business to elect people who stand up for the 99 percent and who stand up for the natural environment and who speak truth to power,” said its president, Joshua Grossman.
Democrats can be “all over the map,” Grossman said. In the case of Sen. John Arthur Smith, he added, “With Democrats like him, who needs Republicans?”
Progressive Kick has been active in congressional and legislative races across the country and recently helped oust U.S. Rep. Tim Holden, D-Pa., and Oregon state Rep. Mike Schaufler, a Portland Democrat, in their primaries, according to Grossman.
Progressive Kick is working with a recently formed coalition called Working Families of New Mexico that includes OLÃ‰, the New Mexico New Majority, the Communications Workers of New Mexico and MoveOn.org, according to Miles Conway, a political coordinator for CWA in New Mexico.
“In general, on the Democratic side of the House and Senate there are some good, strong progressives … but there’s more power to be built there,” Conway said.
The candidates backed by Progressive Kick are those who can be counted on to support working people’s issues, he said.
“We’re not going to need to go chasing them around the Roundhouse for the next few years,” Conway said.
According to Conway, it was Eric Griego’s candidacy for the U.S. House in the Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District that drew attention to New Mexico and cleared the way to push progressive candidates for the Legislature.
Grossman estimated Progressive Kick would spend about $100,000 on Griego’s primary run against Michelle Lujan Grisham and former Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chávez.
Conway said the coalition will have knocked on nearly 33,000 doors and made 8,800 phone calls on Griego’s behalf by Tuesday, Election Day.
Lujan Grisham’s campaign has criticized an attack ad funded by Progressive Kick that alleges she mismanaged a nursing home near Silver City while she was state health secretary.