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$14.4 million spent on NM governor campaigns

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – New Mexico’s 2018 gubernatorial race featured hard-hitting attack ads, deep-pocketed out-of-state groups and hefty spending by both general election candidates.

Combined, Michelle Lujan Grisham and Steve Pearce spent more than $14.4 million in this year’s open race for governor – a figure that does not include outside spending – despite a limit on the size of campaign contributions they could receive.

The total spending is among the highest in state history for a contested race for public office and the highest since the contribution limits took effect after the 2010 election cycle.

“I think this is the new normal,” said University of New Mexico political science professor Lonna Atkeson, who cited the proliferation of campaign staffs as among the reasons for the growth in political spending.

Lujan Grisham defeated Pearce in the Nov. 6 election, winning more than 57 percent of the votes cast in a race that – with nearly 700,000 New Mexicans casting ballots – had the highest voter turnout of any state gubernatorial contest in recent history.

On Thursday, she reported spending roughly $545,000 in the final period before Election Day and the weeks that followed, bringing her total tally for campaign expenditures during this year’s election cycle to nearly $9.6 million. In all, Lujan Grisham raised roughly $9.7 million for her gubernatorial bid, which she first announced nearly two years ago.

Those fundraising figures were nearly double the roughly $4.9 million that Pearce reported spending on his campaign, although Pearce, unlike Lujan Grisham, did not face opposition in the primary election.

In addition, some of the money Pearce reported raising actually came from his congressional account, after he won a legal dispute over whether more than $780,000 in such funds could be transferred to his gubernatorial account despite the state cap on campaign contributions.

In all, the combined spending of the two gubernatorial candidates amounted to about $20 in campaign spending for each vote that was ultimately cast.

Both Lujan Grisham and Pearce are members of the U.S. House who forwent re-election bids to run for governor. It was the first time two sitting members of Congress faced off for New Mexico governor in a general election.

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

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 successful 2014 re-election campaign.

Meanwhile, outside groups also spent big sums during New Mexico’s just-completed election season.

A pro-Democratic independent expenditure group, or super PAC, called Patriot Majority reported spending more than $1.7 million this year to assist the campaigns of Democrats running for state House seats.

On the other side, a Texas-based political committee that launched hard-hitting TV ads in New Mexico’s land commissioner race in support of Republican candidate Pat Lyons – who lost to Democrat Stephanie Garcia Richard – reported spending more than $2.7 million.

That group, called New Mexico Strong, got most of its money in a $2 million contribution from Chevron. It also reported Thursday getting $100,000 from Houston-based Occidental Petroleum Corp.

New Mexico’s campaign donation caps – which were set at $5,500 per donor for each the primary and general election this year – don’t apply to super PACs, which can accept contributions of any size but are barred from coordinating directly with candidates.

The fundraising reports filed Thursday with the Secretary of State’s Office were the final mandatory campaign finance reports for this year’s election cycle. They covered all campaign spending and fundraising from Oct. 31 through Dec. 1.

Per state law, the secretary of state will do a random audit of at least 10 percent of the campaign reports filed by candidates and political committees in the coming weeks.