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Outside groups target NM legislative races

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Hefty sums of money from oil companies, teachers unions and trial lawyers have been flowing into New Mexico legislative races.

All 112 House and Senate seats are up for election in November, and the election results could help determine the fate of bills dealing with marijuana legalization, abortion rights and the state’s energy future.

Given that backdrop, outside groups have already been busy making donations to their preferred candidates.

The California-based oil giant Chevron Inc., for instance, contributed more than $330,000 to various candidates – both Democrats and Republicans – and political committees during a recent 10-week period, according to reports filed Monday with the Secretary of State’s Office.

That includes matching $25,000 contributions to several legislative caucus committees – run by top Democrats and Republicans in both legislative chambers.

In addition, a prominent teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, gave at least $97,000 in donations to Democratic candidates and committees, while a group called Committee for Individual Responsibility funded by trial lawyers made more than $90,000 in contributions.

University of New Mexico political science professor Lonna Atkeson said the outside spending follows a recent trend, and could precede a flood of campaign mailers and advertisements in the coming weeks.

“I’m not surprised that companies like Chevron, in particular, would step up big,” Atkeson told the Journal.

The New Mexico Legislature has been controlled by Democrats for most of the past 80 years, with Republicans at times holding fleeting majorities in the House and Senate.

Democrats currently hold a 46-24 advantage in the House and a 26-16 edge in the Senate.

But there are certain to be new faces, regardless of the general election’s outcome, as seven incumbent senators were defeated in the June primary election, including five Democrats who were ousted by more progressive challengers.

Several races featuring those progressive newcomers against GOP opponents could be expensive, as could contests featuring incumbent GOP senators in the Albuquerque area.

The contest for the southwestern New Mexico Senate District 35 seat currently held by Democrat John Arthur Smith of Deming is shaping up to be among the state’s priciest races.

Republican Crystal Diamond of Elephant Butte reported Monday having raised $111,810 during the recent reporting period, with contributions from Chevron and several incumbent GOP senators.

Her opponent, Democrat Neomi Martinez-Parra of Lordsburg, who defeated Smith in the primary, reported raising more than $95,000, with financial backing from several union groups and incumbent Democrats.

Meanwhile, the legislative caucus committees that are allowed to collect larger amounts of cash than individual candidates or other political committees, could also play a role in this year’s election cycle after being established last year.

GOP leaders have used money from their legislative caucus committees – one House committee and one Senate committee – to launch a campaign called “Respect New Mexico” that appears to target state voters who might be disillusioned by a recent progressive surge.

The campaign reports filed Monday covered the time period between June 30 and Sept. 7. Additional mandatory reports will be filed before Election Day, Nov. 3.

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