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Big bucks flow in race for NM governor

Michelle Lujan Grisham, left, and Steve Pearce, right.

SANTA FE – New Mexico’s two gubernatorial candidates have ramped up their campaign fundraising in recent months, giving them hefty amounts of cash to spend on television ads, mailers and more as the November election nears.

With less than 60 days until Election Day, Republican Steve Pearce still has more money in his war chest than Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham – about $1.9 million, compared with roughly $1.3 million – according to reports filed Monday with the Secretary of State’s Office.

But Lujan Grisham, who emerged victorious in a three-way Democratic primary in June, raised more than double what Pearce did during the roughly two-month period covered in the latest reports – from July 1 through Sept. 3.

In all, the three-term congresswoman from Albuquerque and former state Cabinet secretary has now raised more than $6.6 million and spent about $5.4 million since announcing her gubernatorial campaign in December 2016. She raised more than $1.9 million during the reporting period, with nearly two-thirds of the contributions for dollar amounts of $100 or less.

In a statement, Lujan Grisham said she was honored by the broad financial support backing her campaign to “turn around the last eight years of failed economic and education policies.”

She took in large campaign contributions from several medical marijuana producers, and she received a $5,500 donation from a consulting firm run by former Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, a Republican who has also been involved in the medical cannabis industry.

Pearce, who was unopposed in the primary election, reported raising roughly $750,000 during the reporting period. Of that amount, $133,283 came from court-ordered attorney fees stemming from a dispute over whether he could transfer money from his congressional campaign account to his gubernatorial account despite a state cap on campaign contributions.

Pearce won a court order in the case and subsequently shifted over more than $780,000 from his congressional account.

He has now taken in nearly $4 million and spent slightly more than $2 million since launching his gubernatorial campaign in July 2017.

“The Pearce for New Mexico campaign remains in a strong cash on-hand position to win in November,” said Pearce campaign manager Paul Smith, who claimed Pearce’s message is resonating with voters of various political affiliations.

Some of Pearce’s large contributions came from individuals working in the oil and natural gas industry.

He also took in several $5,500 donations – the maximum allowable for the general election cycle – from members of the Clovis-based Allsup family, which operates more than 300 convenience stores in New Mexico and neighboring states.

Both Lujan Grisham and Pearce are members of the U.S. House and are forgoing re-election bids to run for governor. It’s believed to be the first time two sitting members of Congress have faced off for New Mexico governor in a general election.

This year’s race for governor is wide-open, because incumbent Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, is barred from seeking a third consecutive term in office. She will step down at year’s end.

Martinez spent nearly $11 million on her 2010 gubernatorial campaign – in which she won a five-way GOP primary race and then defeated Democrat Diane Denish in the general election – and an additional $8.7 million on her 2014 re-election campaign.

Meanwhile, the campaign figures reported Monday by candidates don’t reflect spending by outside groups.

For instance, a political committee created earlier this year called Stronger New Mexico PAC, which launched a recent television ad targeting Pearce, reported spending nearly $344,000 during the reporting period.

Stronger New Mexico got its money from two deep-pocketed national groups – the Democratic Governors Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees labor union.

University of New Mexico political science professor Lonna Atkeson said such outside groups have grown in influence during recent election cycles, sometimes spending more money than candidates themselves on TV ads that frequently tend to be attack ads.

In other statewide races:

• Republican Pat Lyons, a member of the Public Regulation Commission, has a hefty financial advantage in the wide open race for land commissioner over his rivals, Democratic state Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard and Libertarian rancher Michael Lucero.

Lyons, himself a former land commissioner, raised about $144,000 during the reporting period and now has about $188,000 in cash on hand, or nearly six times as much as his closest competitor. His contributors include oil and gas companies.

Garcia Richard, who narrowly won a three-way race for the Democratic nomination in June, reported about $56,000 in contributions, with about $33,000 in cash on hand. Among her top contributors was the political arm of the National Education Association-New Mexico, a teachers’ union.

Lucero didn’t report any financial activity.

Incumbent Aubrey Dunn, who won election as a Republican but later registered as a Libertarian, is stepping down rather than seeking re-election.

• Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, has a significant edge over her Republican opponent, Gavin Clarkson.

Toulouse Oliver raised about $80,000 this reporting period and has $169,000 in cash available.

Clarkson raised about $34,000, including about $5,500 in personal loans, and has about $29,000 in his account.

Libertarian Ginger Grider, who just entered the race to fill a vacancy on the ballot, hadn’t filed a report by late Monday.

Journal Capitol Bureau reporter Dan McKay contributed to this report.

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