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Out-of-state PACs pour $$$ into New Mexico

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – One Texas-based political committee funded by oil and gas companies spent roughly $600,000, during a recent four-week period, most of it on television and internet ads attacking the Democratic candidate in the state land commissioner race.

A separate Washington, D.C.-based political committee bankrolled by a national labor union and prominent liberal donors spent more than $525,000 during that same period on mailers, radio ads and more in an attempt to get Democrats elected to the New Mexico House of Representatives.

With four weeks left until Election Day, it’s clear that independent expenditure groups funded by out-of-state interests are – once again – pumping huge sums of money into state political races.

And although the spending is legal under recent court rulings, it can be hard to track for the average voter, because many of the independent expenditure groups – or Super PACs – can appear on the scene suddenly and then fade away just as quickly.

“I think what it does is make the public feel like their voices are being drowned out,” said Heather Ferguson, the executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, a group that has pushed for more disclosure requirements in campaign spending.

New Mexico enacted campaign donation limits after the 2010 election cycle, but those caps don’t apply to Super PACs, which can accept contributions of any size but are barred from coordinating directly with candidates.

As in recent election cycles, several groups appear to be taking advantage of that opportunity. Among those filing spending reports Monday with the Secretary of State’s Office:

• New Mexico Strong, a group based in Austin, Texas, that was created in December 2017, reported getting a $2 million contribution from Chevron Corp. in early September.

It reported spending less than a third of that, or slightly more than $600,000, primarily on TV and online ads targeting Stephanie Garcia Richard, a Democrat from the Los Alamos area who’s running for land commissioner against Republican Pat Lyons, a Cuervo rancher who is a former land commissioner.

“It’s an out-of-state company trying to buy a state election,” Garcia Richard said Monday.

The group also got big contributions from two oil companies – Chevron and Artesia-based Mack Energy Corp. – during the primary election and used the money on campaign ads and mailers supporting a moderate Democratic candidate for land commissioner and two incumbent lawmakers. All three of the candidates lost in the June primary.

• Patriot Majority New Mexico, a Washington, D.C.-based political committee, reported getting $425,000 in the four weeks that ended Oct. 1, with $300,000 coming from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees labor union.

It spent more than $525,000 on radio ads, mailers and political research but did not specify which races it was targeting. Patriot Majority has focused its efforts in recent years on contested state legislative races, and all 70 New Mexico House seats are up for election in November.

• Better Future for New Mexico, a super PAC that arrived on the scene earlier this year, reported taking in more than $808,000, most of it from State Victory Action, an advocacy group that’s also reportedly given to pro-Democratic groups in Maine, Nevada and Minnesota.

The group gave a total of $170,000 to two state political committees – Stronger New Mexico and Equality New Mexico – and still has more than $1.1 million in its bank account.

There are also other independent expenditure groups active in New Mexico, though it’s unclear how many.

Ferguson said Monday that she’s not surprised by the amounts of money being spent by super PACs and other outside groups, saying it’s important for voters to study the motivations behind the big dollars.

“The amount of money that’s being spent allows those that represent specific interests to try to support the candidate that reflects their interest,” Ferguson said.

New Mexico’s general election is set for Nov. 6. Candidates and political committees will have to file one more political spending report before Election Day, and a final report a month later.

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