Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Recently created New Mexico legislative caucus committees that leading lawmakers – both Democrats and Republicans – can use to assist their members have raked in big amounts of money during the last six months.
In campaign spending reports filed Monday with the Secretary of State’s Office, the four committees designated by House and Senate leaders from both parties reported raising a combined total of roughly $763,000 in contributions.
And there’s still nearly seven months left to go until Election Day in November.
The committee that raised the most money was the one designated by House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe. It reported raising $288,217 and spending slightly more than $156,000.
It took in hefty contributions from both environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, and those that advocate for extractive industries, including the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.
Meanwhile, the New Mexico House Republican Campaign Committee wasn’t far behind, reporting having raised $208,930 during the six-month period and spending about $44,000.
It got maximum $25,000 contributions from Jalapeño Corp., an Albuquerque-based oil company run by former state GOP Chairman Harvey Yates Jr., along with big donations from oil companies and Cliff’s Amusement Park in Albuquerque.
House Minority Leaders James Townsend, R-Artesia, said the money will be spent to spread the Republicans’ message and on individual races – though he said the campaign committee would stay out of primary election contests.
Despite raising money for his caucus under the new system, Townsend said he’s not a big fan of it.
“I don’t think it’s good for New Mexico,” he said in a Monday interview. “It certainly concentrates the powers of the purse with leaders.”
Other legislative leaders have a different view of the new caucus committees, as Senate Majority Whip Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, predicted they would mitigate the spending by independent expenditure groups, or super PACs, which have played a prominent role in recent legislative election cycles.
“We’re trying to have some middle ground where we can pay for some administrative expenses without having to use a lot of little PACs,” Stewart told the Journal.
“It’s certainly a more open and honest way of doing things,” she added.
The committee designated by Senate Democrats reported Monday receiving $102,855 during the past six months, with weighty donations from the American Federation of Teachers labor union, a trial lawyers’ group and Ultra Health LLC, a prominent medical cannabis producer.
Stewart, the treasurer for the New Mexico Senate Democrats committee, said the money would be used for polling and to hire a caucus director to help with campaigns.
As for the Senate Republicans, the caucus committee designated by Senate GOP floor leader Stuart Ingle of Portales reported taking in $163,398 during the period that started in October 2019 and went through April 6.
The caucus committees are specialized political committees that can collect more cash than other PACs, or individual candidates, and were approved last year after being added into a campaign finance disclosure bill that was signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
The legislative caucus committees can make unlimited noncash contributions to political campaigns and collect five times more cash per donor – up to $25,000 compared with up to $5,000 – than traditional political committees.
Neither of the two Democratic-led caucus committees reported receiving individual contributions during the 30-day legislative session that ended Feb. 20.
The two Republican-led committees did take in several contributions during the session, though most of them were for relatively small amounts.
A “blackout” period that runs from Jan. 1 through the legislative session’s end date bars candidates from soliciting campaign funds while lawmakers are meeting.
However, that law does not explicitly prohibit such funds from being received.
All 112 state House and Senate seats are up for election in 2020, with the primary election scheduled for June 2.
Democrats enter the election cycle with majorities in both legislative chambers, after picking up eight House seats in 2018.