As immigration debate rages, private prison operators spread cash to NM pols

Two of the nation’s largest private prison companies have given nearly $33,000 to New Mexico’s congressional representatives and state lawmakers over the last year and a  half, a review of campaign finance records by New Mexico In Depth shows. The two operators — the GEO Group, Inc., and CoreCivic, which have maintained a major presence in New Mexico for decades — have come in criticism over the years from immigration attorneys and advocates for warehousing immigrants under multiple presidential administrations. The focus has sharpened as the nation debates the Trump administration’s stepped-up immigration enforcement policies at the border. Across the country the two private prison operators have spent considerable money to influence government policy and have made sizable profits from detaining immigrants in their facilities, according to the Migration Policy Institute. The Institute is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C. dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide.

High Stakes Race: Oil and gas industry and environmentalists square off over next governor

Take a look at most oil and gas infrastructure — wellheads, pipes and cylindrical storage tanks — dotting New Mexico oil and gas fields, and little seems to be happening. But use the right equipment and you can see gases, including methane, wafting into the air. Heading skyward with methane, the main component of natural gas and a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, are royalties some say the oil and gas industry could be paying New Mexico. An April report from Taxpayers for Common Sense, a national budget and taxpayer advocate, analyzed federal leases through the Office of Natural Resource Revenue and estimated that the gas lost nationwide on federal lands in 2016 was worth $75.5 million. Half of the gas lost between 2012 and 2016 came from New Mexico.

Special interests still flock to incumbents in heated House primary races

Incumbents in four state House races that will likely be decided in next week’s primary show significant special interest support in Thursday’s final campaign reports, which reflect their contributions for most of May. If money tells anything about a political race, the reports also show two of the incumbents are being given a solid run for their seats. And while a third has an outsized bank account, her challenger has scooped up a lot more cash from individuals. New Mexico In Depth previously looked at the financial advantage incumbents have due to special interest support in the four Democratic state house races:

District 41: State Rep. Debbie Rodella versus Susan Herrera
District 46: State Rep. Carl Trujillo versus Andrea Romero
District 13: State Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero versus Robert Atencio
District 34: State Rep. Bealquin Gomez versus Raymundo Lara

The reports filed Thursday capture most contributions in May, in the wake of explosive sexual harassment allegations against Trujillo and an increasingly negative campaign waged by Rodella. Meanwhile, oil and gas interests on one side and progressive groups on the other stirred themselves in what had been a relatively quiet Albuquerque race in Roybal Caballero’s district.

See contributors to NM’s congressional races by employer and occupation

Curious about who’s supporting candidates for New Mexico’s hotly contested U.S. House races? New Mexico In Depth has compiled the data for you to sift through, or scroll through the numbers here.  

You can also explore the reports on the Federal Election Commission’s website. Here’s how the support for primary candidates in Congressional Districts 2 and 3 breaks down by largest occupational sector. We’ll update these numbers after the next report is filed in advance of the primary election on June 5.

Trujillo says “establishment” going after him; campaign records suggest that’s not the case

State Rep. Carl Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, has raised more money than any other state legislative candidate except for the chamber’s two top lawmakers — a majority coming from big industries, political action committees and professional lobbyists, groups often thought of as “establishment,” a review by New Mexico In Depth shows. Trujillo, a three-term Democrat, is fighting for his political life after a woman working for an animal rights organization on Wednesday accused him of retaliating against her several years ago by stalling legislation after she rejected his sexual advances. Laura Bonar’s allegations came in an open letter released Wednesday, five weeks before the June primary, and a week before early primary voting starts in the race for legislative District 46,which stretches from Santa Fe to Española. Whoever wins June 5 — Trujillo or his primary opponent Andrea Romero — will most likely represent the district in the 2019 Legislature, although it’s possible a write-in or independent candidate could prevail. In two emails sent in response to Bonar’s letter, Trujillo said he barely knew Bonar, and described her as a tool of the establishment who is cynically using the #MeToo movement as a political weapon.

NMID wins big in regional journalism contest

New Mexico In Depth notched two wins competing against the largest newspapers, radio and TV stations in the four-state region of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. The awards, part of the annual Society of Professional Journalists’ Top of the Rockies contest, were announced last week at the Denver Press Club.  

NMID’s Deputy Director Marjorie Childress won first place in the political enterprise reporting category for newspapers whose circulation tops 75,000 and large-market radio and TV stations. Her September 2017 story Realtors and developers give big money to ABQ mayoral candidates took the prize. Using data analysis, Childress examined campaign finance data and then did additional reporting to conclude the real estate and land development sector had given roughly $1 of every $4 raised in the Albuquerque mayoral race as election day neared.

Biggest industry political givers have clear partisan choices

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.