Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Donors with ties to the energy industry – especially oil and gas – are making some of the biggest contributions to New Mexico campaigns, according to a Journal analysis of state records.
Lucrative donations also have poured in from the Republican Governors Association, Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s reelection campaign and groups supporting a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot.
The flood of cash – about $17 million in contributions and loans – is outlined in campaign finance reports filed this year with the Secretary of State’s Office, covering a recent six-month period.
Among the biggest donations is a $150,000 contribution from the Republican Governors Association to start its own political action committee in New Mexico. Lujan Grisham’s campaign organization, meanwhile, donated $100,000 to the state Democratic Party, according to campaign records.
People or organizations connected to the Yates family – prominent in southeastern New Mexico’s oil and gas industry – have delivered about $150,000 in donations to campaigns, largely favoring Republicans.
The contributions come as political analysts expect competitive races for governor, the Legislature and statewide offices. The party in the White House – Democrats this year – often loses ground at midterm elections.
Donors “will spend money when they think it will make a difference,” Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc. in Albuquerque, said in an interview. “The 2022 general election is going to be much more competitive than what we saw in 2020 or 2018.”
New Mexico limits the size of donations a gubernatorial candidate may accept to $10,400 each for the primary and general election, or a total of $20,800. Legislative caucus committees – the official groups trying to elect more Democrats or Republicans in each chamber – can accept $26,000 per election, or $52,000.
Political action committees, by contrast, are not subject to limits on how much they can accept from an individual source, as long as the PAC is an independent group that is not coordinating with a candidate.
One of the biggest donations reported this year was by the Republican Governors Association, which established its own PAC in New Mexico with a $150,000 contribution this month, according to campaign records.
The donation comes as Lujan Grisham seeks reelection to a second term, with five Republicans competing for the nomination to take her on this fall.
“The RGA knows New Mexico voters remain eager for Republican leadership at the Roundhouse, and we will continue to monitor the race closely as it continues to develop,” Will Reinert, a spokesman for the association, said in a written statement.
Delaney Corcoran, a spokesperson for the Democratic Party of New Mexico, said Lujan Grisham is running on a strong record of accomplishment.
“Voters know Governor Lujan Grisham is a fierce leader who continues to move New Mexico forward,” she said.
Lujan Grisham defeated Republican Steve Pearce by about 100,000 votes – or 14 percentage points – in 2018.
But Sanderoff, the pollster, said this year’s race is taking place in a different political environment. Democrat Joe Biden, not Republican Donald Trump, is in the White House this time, and the president’s party often loses ground at midterm elections.
“In 2018, when Trump was in the White House, Democrats made tremendous gains,” Sanderoff said. “I think Republicans and Democrats alike recognize that this will be a more competitive election cycle.”
Lujan Grisham, for her part, is a major donor this year, too. Her campaign organization, New Mexicans for Michelle, gave $100,000 to the Democratic Party of New Mexico earlier this year, according to state records.
It’s common for candidates at the top of the ticket to donate to the state party, which oversees door-knocking and broad efforts to reach out to voters.
Early childhood debate
Also benefiting from lucrative donations this year is the “Vote Yes for Kids” campaign, which is urging voters to authorize bigger distributions out of New Mexico’s largest permanent fund to support early childhood and K-12 education.
A proposed state constitutional amendment to boost the permanent fund distribution from 5% to 6.25% is on the Nov. 8 ballot.
The “Vote Yes for Kids” group has accepted $300,000 from CHI St. Joseph’s Children, a faith-based group that operates home-visit programs to help parents with young kids.
Organizers in the Land of Enchantment, also known as OLÉ, provided $100,000 to the campaign and is the sponsoring organization for the political committee.
High-dollar donations reported to the Secretary of State’s Office this year also reflect the influence of business interests.
New Mexico last year became the nation’s No. 2 state in oil production, just behind Texas, and the industry is a vital part of the state government’s revenue.
Here’s a look at some of the biggest donations:
• Peyton Yates, an oil and gas executive from Artesia, has donated $65,800 to the legislative committee seeking to elect Republicans to the state House, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Dow and GOP attorney general candidate Jeremy Gay.
Altogether, individuals or organizations tied to the family have donated over $150,000 to candidates or campaign groups.
• The campaign committee supporting Republicans in the state House accepted $52,000 from Jeff Van Dyke, a rancher, and $50,000 from J.R. Water Transfer, a company in the oil and gas industry. In each case, some money was designated for the primary election and some for the general election.
• The committee supporting Democrats in the state House accepted $25,000 from Houston-based Marathon Oil Co. and $25,000 from an Austin-based organization affiliated with Chevron.
The Democratic committee also accepted $20,000 from Pattern Energy Group, a San Francisco-based company that operates wind and solar facilities, and $15,000 from the Oakland, California-based Sierra Club Political Committee, which promotes environmental protection.
• The Mescalero Apache Tribe donated almost $50,000. Democratic and Republican legislators were among those who received the money.
• Exxon Mobil and Occidental Petroleum each contributed over $50,000 this year. Democratic and Republican legislators or caucus committees were among the beneficiaries.
Chevron and its affiliates contributed over $70,000 to Democratic and Republican groups, and other political committees.
New Mexico Ethics Watch, a nonpartisan group, estimated in its own analysis that the oil and gas industry had donated over $1.1 million in a recent six-month period to New Mexico politicians.
“The oil and gas industry plays an outsized role in the economic fortunes of New Mexico, and we believe citizens need to be aware of the industry’s continuing influence upon our public officials,” Executive Director Kathleen Sabo said.