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Senate hopefuls open to some PAC money

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján and New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver have made pledges not to take political action committee money from large corporations in their bids to replace fellow Democrat Tom Udall in the U.S. Senate.

But they haven’t sworn off receiving PAC donations from labor unions or advocacy groups.

Luján pointed out that his father, longtime New Mexico legislator Ben Lujan, was a union iron worker.

“If labor unions support my campaign,” he said, “I would be honored to receive their support.”

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver

Toulouse Oliver said she “was not opposed to taking donations from like-minded advocacy groups,” including labor unions.

“I’m aligned with the workers, not the big corporations,” Toulouse Oliver said.

Luján announced earlier this month he would reject donations from corporate PACs. Toulouse Oliver announced she would not accept corporate PAC money shortly after launching her Senate bid.

Luján said his decision to reject corporate support is “in step with the work” he’s doing as the fourth-ranking Democratic member of the U.S. House.

“The system is rigged politically for those at the top,” he said, making reference to the House’s passage of the “For the People Act,” which addresses campaign finance issues.

“The voters’ trust for the political system has reached an all-time low.”

Toulouse Oliver also said her pledge was consistent with her work as secretary of state, where she said she has worked on campaign disclosure issues.

She said corporate politics “has plagued Congress as a whole, particularly in the Senate.”

Luján had received corporate PAC money in bids for the U.S. House. But Luján said he was not sure how much money he had received from corporate PACs in the last quarter before his decision to run for Udall’s seat.

His first quarter filings with the Federal Election Commission on March 31 showed him with more than $630,000 cash on hand. His filings showed donations of almost $310,000 from PACs.

Heather Brewer, campaign spokeswoman for Toulouse Oliver, released a list of almost $200,000 in corporate donations for Luján.

Toulouse Oliver and Gavin Clarkson, the only announced Republican candidate, suggested Luján return the corporate PAC money he had on hand.

“I appreciate Congressman Luján announcing he would not be accepting corporate PAC donations. I think that is the right decision,” Toulouse Oliver said. “If he really wants to live up to his pledge, returning the corporate PAC money would seem to be the right thing to do.”

In response, Luján said it was too early “for political gamesmanship.”

“I’m focused on the fight for health care and the fight against climate change,” he said.

The donations were made before he announced his bid for Senate, and Luján said he has not accepted corporate PAC money since launching his Senate bid.

Toulouse Oliver said she had received “a little money from corporations and businesses” during her bids for secretary of state, but she said her situation was different from Luján’s.

She said she can’t use any of the money left over from her state campaigns in the race for the Senate.

Clarkson, meanwhile, said he had no problems with receiving donations from corporate PACs.

“I’m perfectly happy with the First Amendment,” Clarkson said in a news release. “I’ll proudly accept support from American job creators.”

He labeled decisions by Luján and Toulouse Oliver not to accept corporate PAC donations as “a common base-pandering political stunt that the media falls for all the time.”

Luján said he believes the rejection of corporate PAC money is a way to win back the voters’ trust.

He also pointed to a trend during his time as chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He said corporate PAC donations accounted for only 5% of the funding for winning Democratic campaigns. He said individual donations made up the bulk of the donations to the candidates.

“I think the average donation was $22,” he said.

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