Everyone knows by now that outside groups are spending big to influence the outcome of New Mexico’s southern congressional district. Republican Yvette Herrell and Democrat Xochitl Torres Small are campaigning to represent the district. Getting a handle on how much cash is pouring in can be tricky. Fortunately, there are a couple important tools. One, the Federal Elections Commission requires a lot more timely reporting of campaign finance data than does New Mexico.
One of the stories that’s emerged during the 2018 election is a surge of online small donors crossing state lines to power insurgent Democratic candidates who the party hopes will lead to a takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives. One of those campaigns is in southern New Mexico’s 2nd congressional district. Democratic candidate Xochitl Torres Small has built a war chest that includes significant small donor support in a race against Republican Yvette Herrell that the Cook Political Report has rated a “toss-up.”
But Torres Small and other Democratic congressional candidates aren’t the only ones benefiting. New Mexico gubernatorial candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham’s small donor contributions reported with a month left in the campaign have notably outpaced not just her rival, Republican Steve Pearce, but also candidates in the last two gubernatorial campaigns. And a much larger share of her small donations, those that are $200 or less, come from outside New Mexico.
Lujan Grisham’s ability to rake in so many small donors from other states may say less about her positions and more about her ability to tap a national network of Democratic small donors giving small amounts, often multiple times.
A new internet ad featuring five Hispanic activists from rural northern New Mexico is taking aim at the progressive wing of the Democratic party. Invoking land, culture and heritage, the speakers urge viewers to not support Democratic candidates just because they’re Democrats. Phrases appear in writing as each person is talking that lead the viewer through a series of statements that progressives are intolerant, divisive, that they are attacking tradition and want to control the land. From there, the ad states that progressives have taken over the Democratic party and that it’s time for “traditional New Mexico Democrats” to stand against them, concluding with “Vote People over Party.”
The kicker? The internet ad is funded by New Mexico Turn Around, a group with a political action committee largely funded in recent years by Republican New Mexico oilman Harvey Yates.
There’s a new web portal for tracking who’s behind the money in elections, a task that can be arduous.
For New Mexico voters, the primary sources of campaign finance data are the websites of the New Mexico Secretary of State and the Federal Election Commission. And at the federal level there are also reports filed by broadcasters with the Federal Communications Commission that show who is buying airtime for television ads. Called “NAB” reports, which stands for National Association of Broadcasters, these are often the first sign one has of a group planning to spend money in an election. But searching those filings on the FCC site is onerous. The Center for Responsive Politics, or opensecrets.org, has pulled all of the reports filed by New Mexico broadcasters into a user-friendly portal.
The 2018 election will be pivotal for discerning the kind of imprint Gov. Susana Martinez— the first female governor of New Mexico and the first elected Latina governor in the United States — leaves on New Mexico policies and laws. There’s a good chance many of her priorities, if not her methods, will live on if her successor is Republican Steve Pearce. Not so much if Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham moves into the Governor’s Mansion. How much she shapes New Mexico’s appellate court for the long term is another area worth watching. Six judges on the 10-member court are Martinez appointees.
Albuquerque’s city attorney said last night while he doesn’t have a firm answer about when the city would hold an election on a successful ballot initiative, city charter language stipulates that an election is required. “At some point this matter will have to be heard,” said Esteban Aguilar, Albuquerque city attorney, at a special meeting called by the Bernalillo County Commission to reconsider its decision last week not to place a public financing ballot initiative referred to as “democracy dollars” on the November ballot. Once again, the commissioners didn’t muster enough votes to place the ballot item, kicking it to the city. The Albuquerque city charter allows questions to be placed before voters through direct petition rather than always having to be green-lighted by the city council. Albuquerque residents submitted to the city clerk earlier this month almost 28,000 petition signatures to ask voters to decide whether to increase the amount of money publicly financed candidates receive, and to change the date of city elections. The city clerk certified almost 20,000 of those signatures, enough to trigger a vote under city rules.
Leaders of the Albuquerque “Democracy Dollars” public financing ballot initiative want the Bernalillo County commissioners to call a special meeting next Tuesday to vote again on placing the charter amendment proposal on the November ballot. This time with a public comment period on that issue alone. If commissioners refuse, the city may be on the hook for a special election. The question at issue is whether a special city election will be triggered if the county commission does not allow voters to vote on the petition this November. NM In Depth has asked the city attorney, but has yet to receive a reply.
Article six of the city charter addresses how amendments to the charter can be made.
The Bernalillo County Commission voted last night not to put a public financing proposal on the November ballot. The vote was 3-2 with Democrat Steven Quezada and Republicans Lonnie Talbert and Jim Smith voting against the measure. Almost 28,000 Albuquerque voters signed petitions to put the measure on the ballot, to fix a city public financing statute that was hobbled by a U.S. Supreme Court decision back in 2011. Quezada told the Albuquerque Journal he had too many questions about the proposal, and asked, “…why am I making a decision that the city councilors aren’t doing?” Talbert was more blunt, according to the NM Political Report.
A decade ago, it seemed Albuquerque’s new public financing program had proven itself. All three mayoral candidates in 2009 used public money to run their campaigns, keeping expenditures under $400,000 each, well below the almost $1.2 million the incumbent mayor had spent in 2005 to get re-elected. Public financing freed candidates to talk to voters rather than spend all their time fundraising, supporters said, while making it possible for them to compete against candidates raising money from big donors. They also hoped reducing the amount of money spent might inspire more confidence in the political process. Then a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court decision in an Arizona case invalidated a provision in Albuquerque’s law that provided additional funds when expenditures by private competitors exceeded the initial city disbursements to publicly funded candidates.
Carlos Medrano of Mexico had to wait six days before guards let him call his family from the Otero County correctional facility where he spent two and a half months, incarcerated by a private prison company that holds undocumented immigrants for the federal government. “They didn’t respect us,” Medrano told New Mexico state lawmakers through a translator in Santa Fe on Monday. Roberto Gonzalez of Anthony, New Mexico, talked about the sadness he felt at not seeing his family for three months. Gonzalez was arrested outside a courthouse where he had gone to conduct business that “he had a right to conduct” by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, he said through a translator. Like Medrano, Gonzalez found himself locked up in one of two facilities in New Mexico that house undocumented immigrants for ICE.