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Lawyers Group Backs Democratic Candidates

SANTA FE – A political committee affiliated with New Mexico trial lawyers has donated $198,000 in the past two months to Democratic candidates and political groups helping Democrats retain control of the Legislature, according to a financial disclosure filed Monday.

The latest campaign finance reports provided fresh evidence of the high-stakes efforts by Democrats and Republicans to influence the general election races that will determine which party controls the House and Senate when the Legislature convenes next year. Democrats hold majorities in both legislative chambers, but Republicans picked up seats in the House of Representatives in the 2010 elections.

The Committee on Individual Responsibility, which is affiliated with the New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association, raised $111,185 since July and spent nearly $198,880, nearly all of that on legislative candidates and contributions to Democratic-leaning campaign groups. It reported a cash balance of $63,513 as of last week.

A “super PAC” formed by supporters of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez raised $281,100 and spent about $80,328. It had $305,030 cash on hand.

Martinez political adviser Jay McCleskey said Monday that the super PAC, Reform New Mexico Now, is targeting two dozen legislative races and will support candidates backing the governor’s agenda, including implementing a new evaluation system for teachers and stopping the state from issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. The PAC received $250,000 from a national GOP group, the Republican State Leadership Committee.

PACs such as Reform New Mexico Now can make independent expenditures in campaigns and collect donations in unlimited amounts.

Monday was the deadline for filing campaign finance reports with the Secretary of State’s Office.

A political committee established by the governor, Susana PAC, raised $27,669 and spent $105,718, with nearly half of that for mailings promoting the governor’s agenda and to support the re-election of District Attorney Amy Orlando in Doña Ana County. Martinez stepped down as district attorney after becoming governor, and she appointed Orlando as her successor.

The governor’s PAC and the political group tied to the trial lawyers are subject to state limits on contributions because they donate money directly to candidates. A federal judge has ruled that New Mexico’s campaign contribution restrictions could not be applied to independent expenditure groups.
— This article appeared on page C2 of the Albuquerque Journal