SANTA FE – An avalanche of campaign cash is flowing into New Mexico’s gubernatorial race, setting the stage for what could end up being one of the state’s most expensive elections ever.
In campaign reports filed Monday, Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, and Steve Pearce, a Republican, each reported having raised more than $1.4 million during a recent six-month period.
Nearly half of the campaign cash reported by Pearce – a total of $783,767 – was a transfer from his congressional campaign account. Pearce won a court order in November that allowed him to transfer his federal war chest despite a state cap on campaign contributions.
With Gov. Susana Martinez set to leave office at the end of this year because of term limits, both Lujan Grisham and Pearce are vacating their congressional seats to run for governor.
Pearce is the lone GOP candidate in the race, while Lujan Grisham is vying with former Albuquerque media executive Jeff Apodaca and state Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces for the Democratic nomination for governor.
While Lujan Grisham has outpaced her Democratic rivals in fundraising, Cervantes gave his campaign a boost this month in the form of a $1 million loan that was reported Monday. Candidate loans are not subject to the state’s campaign contribution limits and Cervantes, an attorney who comes from a prominent southern New Mexico family, had already loaned $400,000 last year to his campaign.
“We realized we’re going to have to compete with the national money that’s pouring into the congressional candidates’ campaigns,” Cervantes told the Journal, while also pointing out that, as a legislator, he was barred from soliciting contributions during this year’s 30-day session. “It’s a true investment in a state we love.”
In addition to his latest loan, Cervantes reported getting nearly $55,000 in outside donations during the reporting period.
Lujan Grisham reported raising $1.4 million during the six-month period that ended April 2 without any loans, including matching $5,500 contributions from Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
She also received contributions from actors Wes Studi and Nancy Stephens, union groups, pueblos and medical cannabis dispensaries.
While Lujan Grisham now has about $1.8 million in her war chest, her campaign said about 77 percent of the contributions she has received were for $100 or less.
“I’m proud of the vast support our campaign has earned since I announced more than a year ago,” Lujan Grisham said. “Our campaign is being fueled by grass-roots donors who are ready to turn the Governor’s mansion blue in New Mexico.”
Pearce, for his part, reported taking in more than $1.6 million during the reporting period, which includes the transferred funds. He now has nearly $2.1 million in his state campaign account.
Pearce received hefty contributions from individuals in the agriculture and oil and gas industries, particularly in southeast New Mexico, and also got a $5,500 contribution from Stanley Hubbard of Minnesota, who is a broadcast executive with a history of donating to Republican candidates.
“As this race comes into focus, voters will have a clear choice between a tested leader with plans to improve the lives of all New Mexicans vs. a career politician who will raise taxes and put special interests above bipartisan results,” Pearce campaign spokesman Kevin Sheridan said.
As for Apodaca, he reported taking in nearly $254,000 in donations over the six-month period and has roughly $323,000 in available campaign cash. Apodaca has already launched television campaign ads and has outspent all his rivals except Lujan Grisham.
New Mexico political races have become increasingly expensive in recent years, even though the 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.
Martinez, who is barred from seeking a third consecutive term, 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.
With seven months left until this year’s general election, the more than $9.1 million raised so far by New Mexico gubernatorial candidates is already more than the annual budget for the Secretary of State’s Office, which is in charge of overseeing state elections.
Meanwhile, in other statewide races with contested primaries:
⋄ Democratic state Sen. Howie Morales of Silver City raised $103,000 in cash donations over the past six months – more than his two Democratic rivals for lieutenant governor combined. Doña Ana County Commissioner Billy Garrett raised about $52,000, and former state Rep. Rick Miera of Albuquerque reported about $26,000.
Michelle Garcia Holmes is the lone Republican candidate in the race.
⋄ Democrat Garrett VeneKlasen of Santa Fe appeared to lead the fundraising for his party’s nomination as land commissioner, reporting having raised about $135,000 over the last six months with about $83,000 in cash on hand.
Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-White Rock, reported about $56,000 in donations and about $30,000 in cash on hand. Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, had not yet filed his report with the Secretary of State’s Office as of late Monday.
Whoever wins the three-way primary would face off against former Land Commissioner Pat Lyons, a Republican, in the general election.
⋄ In the race for the Democratic nomination for state auditor, Brian Colón, an Albuquerque lawyer, raised somewhat more in cash donations than his opponent, state Rep. Bill McCamley of Las Cruces.
Colón raised about $76,000 in cash donations during the reporting period and has roughly $74,000 available. McCamley raised about $66,000 in donations and gave his campaign about $45,000 in loans. He has about $125,000 in cash on hand.
Current state Auditor Wayne Johnson, a Republican who was appointed to the job by Martinez, reported taking in more than $42,000 in contributions and has $36,758 in his campaign war chest. He faces no primary opposition.