Attorneys definitely want Michelle Lujan Grisham to be New Mexico’s next governor. They really like Hector Balderas, too.
Oil and Gas folks? They prefer Steve Pearce.
The two industry groups are the biggest givers to political candidates in this year’s election cycle, accounting for one of every seven dollars given, from statewide offices to county level campaigns, from November 2016 through this week, according to an analysis by NMID.
As of April 11, total contributions to all candidates reached $12.8 million (excluding public financing, and large contributions/loans from candidates to themselves).
Attorneys and their firms significantly outpaced all other industries, giving $1,148,763 from more than 800 contributors, nine percent of the total.
Oil and gas industry companies, owners and employees gave $811,238, or six percent. Around 90 percent of that came from 61 companies, with just four companies–Occidental, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Andeavor/Tesoro–accounting for $370,000, or about half.
Three others have outpaced other industries as well: health, $350,295, agriculture, $445,380, and real estate and development, $547,069. Both the health and agriculture industries are distinctly partisan in their giving to gubernatorial candidates as well.
What sets attorneys and the oil and gas industries apart is the scale of their giving.
Attorneys want Democrats in office, badly
U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham is the clear gubernatorial favorite of attorneys, raking in almost half of all donations to candidates, at $480,246. By comparison, the other gubernatorial candidates received scraps, meager ones: state Sen. Joseph Cervantes, $16,775; Jeff Apodaca, $37,428; and U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce with $21,035. Aside from gubernatorial candidates, the legal community also has given heavily to current Democratic Attorney General Hector Balderas, at $173,950.
Aside from the half a million dollars they’ve given Lujan Grisham, attorney giving to political committees ($667,201) reinforces their preference for Democrats. Of that, they gave $81,567 to various Democratic party political funds, but just $3,451 to Republican party groups.
And they are amassing war-chests in their own political groups. More than 80 percent of such giving went to two attorney-supported political action committees. The Committee on Individual Responsibility (COIR) received $262,950, 40 percent of attorney PAC contributions. COIR is the PAC of the New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association.
A new political committee funded by attorneys called Safety and Justice for All received slightly more, at $277,795. A report by Andrew Oxford of the Santa Fe New Mexican said the attorneys behind the group are primarily personal injury and medical malpractice firms. A political consultant working with the group told Oxford that the name of the PAC “kind of describes what we’re up to.”
Oil and gas firms prefer Republicans
Pearce, who formerly owned a oil-field services company, is a favorite of the oil and gas industry, receiving almost a third of the cash given by companies to candidates, at $230,213. Lujan Grisham received $22,750; Apodaca brought in $4,500; and Cervantes $5,200.
The industry also has given heavily to two candidates who are no longer running for state seats. State Land Commissioner candidate Aubrey Dunn, who is running for U.S. Senate as a Libertarian, received $56,100, mostly before 2018. And state Rep. Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, who is not running for re-election, received $40,920. Otherwise, they’ve mostly spread their money around to Republican lawmakers.
In a near mirror image of attorney preferences when it comes to political parties, about half of oil and gas spending ($294,796) has gone to Republican party groups. The rest has been distributed to a handful of their own PACs. Democratic party groups have received under $1,000.
Veteran New Mexico political pollster and analyst Brian Sanderoff believes the preferences on display by these two industries can be traced to the core values of the political parties, and how those values play out in policy and regulation.
“I don’t think money makes groups (political parties) act a certain way. Both groups have core values. Candidates tend to represent the interests of their constituents,” he said. “And various industry groups will support groups that support their interests.”
Sanderoff said the partisan choices of the two industry groups aren’t surprising.
Republicans talk about reducing corporate liability or other costs, in the name of jobs. Democrats, on the other hand, speak about protecting the interests of the oppressed, which translates, as one example, to not restricting the amount of money that juries can award to plaintiffs in court.
“A lot of contributions from attorneys are trial lawyers, who represent plaintiffs who are seeking large judgements in court cases,” Sanderoff said. “Trial lawyers tend to support candidates who might be more pro-plaintiff oriented and less likely to set liability caps that could reduce the compensatory or punitive damages assessed by juries.”
When it comes to the oil and gas industry, Republican core values and industry interests around regulation tend to match up.
A core value of Republicans is to reduce regulations and other factors that place financial burdens on corporations, Sanderoff said. So they tend to favor less environmental regulation, which they argue leads to fewer oil and gas jobs. Democrats, on the other hand, have as a core constituency environmentalists who argue that regulations are necessary for clean air and water.
Industry insiders aren’t saying much about reasons for their largesse, but documents offer insight and confirm Sanderoff’s analysis.
Trial Lawyers Association Executive Director Peter Mallery, reached by NMID via email, did not respond to questions about trial lawyers’ giving this election cycle or the objectives of the association’s PAC.
NMTLA employs a professional lobbyist in addition to Mallery, David Jaramillo.
On the association’s website is a statement that COIR, the association’s political action committee, is “composed of lawyers who support a fair legal system and laws that protect the rights of injured citizens.”
New Mexico Oil and Gas Association spokesman Robert McEntyre described his industry as a “critical part of New Mexico’s foundation” that provides a third of state funding for schools, roads, and public safety. It’s not surprising, he said, “that many oil and gas producers would also choose to participate in the political process.”
Ryan Flynn, former cabinet secretary for New Mexico’s Environment Department and now Executive Director of the NMOGA, was more forthcoming last year during an annual member meeting last year, saying the industry faces regulatory and political uncertainty.
Flynn’s remarks, quoted from a transcript of last year’s meeting that the Santa Fe Reporter referenced in a story earlier this year, sum up why the governorship is so important to the oil and gas industry:
“Probably the most consistent benefit to our industry over the last 7 years is that we don’t have to worry when we walk into each legislative session about a harmful piece of legislation getting signed into law,” Flynn said in the transcript. “The governor has served as a backstop to prevent harmful legislation from being passed that would make extremely difficult challenges for our industry. But, we have an election coming up in a year. And with an election comes again, regulatory uncertainty and political uncertainty as we try and figure out what is going to happen in 2019.”