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3rd Congressional District candidates tap different sources for campaign money

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Valerie Plame has raised by far the most money from small donors, those giving $200 or less.

By a wide margin, Teresa Leger Fernandez has raised the most from within the state of New Mexico.

And Marco Serna has taken in the vast majority of his campaign money from big donors, those giving $2,000 or more.

Dig down into the campaign finance reports of the five candidates who have raised the most money in the contest for the House seat in New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District, and different patterns emerge. But the candidates all accentuate the positive when asked about where their money is coming from.

Plame – the only candidate with a national profile, a result of her infamous outing as a CIA operative by the George W. Bush administration amid the political fights over the Iraq War – has the biggest campaign war chest. As of the most recent reporting period, which ended Sept. 30, she had raised $685,923. Leger Fernandez, a Santa Fe attorney with roots in Las Vegas, New Mexico, was second, with $398,219.

Plame has raised most of her money – $411,283 – from “unitemized” donors giving $200 or less, possibly a sign of her nationwide reach via internet efforts like her snazzy James Bond-style campaign video, which featured her driving a speeding Camaro backward and played up her CIA background.

Donors’ names and other details are not reported to the Federal Election Commission for unitemized contributions.

But among donors whose gifts are “itemized” – those who give $200 or more and are listed by name, address, amount and sometimes occupation or employer – Plame raised just $81,363 from New Mexicans.

That’s much less than Leger Fernandez ($217,644 from New Mexico), Serna ($134,725 in state) and not too much more than the New Mexico fundraising of other candidates John Blair ($64,000) and state Rep. Joseph Sanchez ($59,200).

Other Democrats in the race are Taos environmental lawyer Kyle Tisdel, who has raised $40,954 in total receipts; Sandoval County Treasurer Laura Montoya, $25,956; and Gavin Kaiser of Santa Cruz, no receipts reported.

Plame, who moved to Santa Fe in 2007, didn’t address her relatively low fundraising amount from New Mexico so far when the Journal submitted questions about her campaign finance reports.

“It’s encouraging that so many supporters want to be a part of this team,” her campaign team said via email. “Last quarter, we received over 16,600 contributions at an average of just $26.87. People from all over want a strong progressive leader with the personal experience of fighting against Washington corruption.

“Our broad base of support from everyday working people reflects a lot of the growing support we’re hearing when traveling across New Mexico,” the Plame team said.

In response to a question about her success in collecting small donations, the Plame email said, “Most of all, we’re excited that our message has inspired such enthusiastic support from so many. We don’t think about it in terms of running against anyone else. We have our own benchmarks and try to do the best we can.”

Leger Fernandez’s fundraising from New Mexico – the $217,644 in itemized receipts cited above – represents 69% of her total receipts. She said that shows that “New Mexicans are putting their money where their trust is.” They want a member of Congress who reflects the district, and knows the problems and opportunities of the district, she said.

“We can truly say we have a grassroots campaign going,” she added.

The financial support in New Mexico also is important because it brings energy and commitment to her campaign “and persons talking to each other on the ground,” factors she says “should never be underestimated.”

Leger has received $34,050 from California, her biggest source outside of New Mexico. Plame got $67,185 from California.

Attacking Plame

Serna has made attacking Plame a key part of his campaign, even as fellow New Mexico native Leger Fernandez has passed him to move into second place in the fundraising race.

Serna said in his emailed comments to the Journal: “At this stage of the campaign, I am more interested in building our grassroots organization than receiving small contributions from internet fundraising. It’s important to note that the one candidate who has raised the most amount of money in the race solicited funds almost exclusively from out-of-state contributors who will not be voting in the election.”

Serna did not address a Journal question about his reliance on big donors. Of his $351,548 total receipts, $275,100, or more than 78%, is from people who gave $2,000 or more.

“I am proud that we have over one thousand endorsements from individuals within the 3rd Congressional District in New Mexico,” he said.

Still, most of Serna’s financial support comes from out of state.

Almost all of his campaign money is from itemized contributions, with 40% – the previously noted $134,725 – from New Mexico. Other states which have been the source of significant amounts of money for Serna include Texas ($49,850), Tennessee ($30,800), California ($28,659) and Florida ($19,400).

Serna also claims in a statement that “a number” of Plame’s donors are “anti-Semitists and individuals who are holocaust deniers.”

He has repeatedly criticized Plame’s much-publicized tweet two years ago of an offensive article headlined “America’s Jews Are Driving America’s Wars” from an anti-Semitic website. After briefly defending the tweet, she apologized for it and described the tweet as a “doozy” of an error. She said she had merely skimmed the article before tweeting.

The Serna campaign, when asked, provided no proof of lots of anti-Semites or Holocaust deniers among Plame’s supporters. The only specific Plame contributor cited by the Serna campaign is former U.S. Rep. Paul “Pete” McCloskey of California, who in 1972, as a left-wing Republican, famously ran as an anti-war, pro-environment candidate against Richard Nixon.

In 2000, McCloskey did address a Holocaust denier group, the Institute for Historical Review. What he said, exactly, and whether he was soft on Holocaust denial, remains a subject of dispute since it first made news when he was attempting a political comeback in 2006, although there also has been criticism that the always freewheeling ex-congressman never should have spoken to the IHR in the first place. McCloskey has said the group’s transcript of his remarks was wrong.

McCloskey and his wife have given $950 to Plame’s campaign.

Blair makes strong entry

John Blair, who has worked for several prominent Democratic elected officials and most recently served as deputy New Mexico secretary of state, entered the 3rd CD race late – in August – but had raised $147,517 by Sept. 30. Forty percent of his money is from New Mexico and he did well from donors in Washington, D.C., who gave $13,380.

Asked for comment for this story, his staff referred a reporter to an October news release that said his “early fundraising success positions Blair to compete aggressively across the sprawling northern New Mexican congressional district.”

Blair also said: “To see so many people step up and invest in this campaign is humbling. I’ve spent my career putting progressive ideas into action and I know that we don’t have a moment to waste when it comes to standing up to the NRA or taking action on our climate crisis.”

State Rep. Joseph Sanchez of Alcalde is fifth in the fundraising race. He has raised $64,850, almost all of it in state.

“This race is for representation of mostly rural New Mexico, which is not as wealthy as some parts of the state, and we are very pleased with the contributions we have received so far,” Sanchez said via email. “A $10 contribution may not seem like much, but a person that donates $10 of their hard-earned money would never vote for another candidate.

“We are second in social media, and probably first if you only count followers that are actually from New Mexico,” he added.

“We have around 250 dedicated volunteers because they believe in this campaign,” Sanchez said. ” … We don’t need to spend much money because we don’t have a lot of overhead. We already have enough to run the campaign to the end, minus television advertising, which may not be that effective in this CD3 race as it would be in a statewide race.”

Here’s a sampling of some of the donors to the top five fundraising candidates:

• Plame: Former TV newsman Sam Donaldson; actors John Goodman and Tess Harper; Thurgood Marshall Jr.

• Leger: Former TV newsman and state labor secretary Conroy Chino; Meow Wolf founder Vince Kadlubek; Ohkay Owingeh, Taos and Santo Domingo pueblos; Santa Fe Community College board member Linda Siegle; state Sen. Elizabeth Stefanics; the Emily’s List federal fund.

• Serna: Former Santa Fe County Commissioner Mike Anaya; former Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez; former state Attorney General Gary King; local comedian and mariachi singer Carlos Medina; Pojoaque Pueblo; state Rep. Jim Trujillo.

• Blair: Equality PAC, Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis’ 2018 congressional campaign committee, Santa Fe attorney Kate Ferlic.

• Sanchez: Pojoaque Pueblo; well-known Pecos-area outfitter Hugh Ley; lobbyist James Bullington.

Among six Republican candidates, Audra Lee Brown of Portales has raised the most, $6,973.

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