Campaign spending robust amid pandemic

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The coronavirus outbreak has changed how New Mexico’s legislative candidates connect with voters, but it hasn’t taken the money out of campaigns.

Rather than door-to-door campaigning, candidates are relying more heavily on mailers, signs and other forms of advertising.

Several incumbent state senators facing primary election challenges reported hefty campaign contributions Tuesday, with the June 2 election just three weeks away.

Republican Sen. Gregg Fulfer of Jal reported spending more than $76,000 during the four-week reporting period, much of it on campaign mailers and signs. He helped pay for the expenses with a $35,000 loan from his company, Fulfer Oil & Cattle.

His primary election opponent, GOP Rep. David Gallegos of Eunice, reported nearly $30,000 in contributions – including two $5,000 donations from Texas-based oil field companies – and had more than $60,000 in his campaign war chest.

Another incumbent, Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, is facing a challenge from fellow Democrat Carrie Hamblen. Papen reported raising $13,400 in the four-week period, including donations from former Sens. Tim Jennings and Michael Sanchez.

She said in a recent interview that she has sent out campaign mailers with detachable absentee ballot requests, in an attempt to encourage voter participation during the pandemic.

“Trying to get people out to vote – that might be the biggest thing,” Papen said.

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said social distancing guidelines mean campaigns might not be able to rely on volunteers helping with door-to-door campaigning.

Instead, candidates may have to rely on mailers, telephone calls and get-out-the-vote efforts aimed at absentee voting, he said.

“When we shift to voting by mail and absentee voting, the campaigns get more expensive,” Egolf told the Journal.

Although Egolf is not opposed in the primary election, he is heading up a caucus committee for House Democrats that reported raising more than $84,000 during the recent reporting period and now has $305,000 available in its bank account.

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 top-ranking lawmakers – both Democrats and Republicans – who head the caucus committees get to decide how the money is divided up. But Egolf and other leaders say it will be focused at general election races, not primary contests.

All 112 state House and Senate seats are up for election in 2020, and 21 incumbent lawmakers – 13 in the Senate and eight in the House – are facing primary election challenges.

Democrats enter the election cycle with majorities in both legislative chambers, after picking up eight House seats in 2018.

In other campaign finance reports filed Tuesday by candidates and political committees:

• A political action committee affiliated with the Sierra Club donated $90,000 to a local PAC active in several state Senate races.

The local committee, Rio Grande Sierra Club Healthy Communities, reported spending about $38,000 on mail pieces supporting Democrats Noreen Kelly, Pam Cordova and Siah Correa Hemphill – all of whom are challenging incumbent senators in the primary – and Brenda Grace McKenna, who’s seeking an open Senate seat in the Corrales area.

• Better Future for New Mexico, an independent expenditure PAC, reported $325,000 in contributions from two out-of-state-groups and spent about $48,000 on voter turnout through a Planned Parenthood-affiliated group.

The reporting period covered the period that ran from April 7 through May 4. One more campaign spending report is required to be filed with the Secretary of State’s Office before the June 2 primary, with a final report due shortly after the election.

Journal Capitol Bureau reporter Dan McKay contributed to this report.


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