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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.
During an election year, the public — including University of New Mexico students — is bombarded with political advertising, online, television radio, in the mail, or over the phone.
The messages are easy to understand: stay away from — or vote for — this person. Less easy is tracking contributions for advertising, because in the current system donors are able to obscure their identities through so-called “dark money.”
This article was published by both New Mexico In Depth and the Daily Lobo at the University of New Mexico. Anthony Jackson is a Fellow for NM in Depth and a beat reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted on Twitter: @TonyAnjacksonDark money is untraceable contributions that can come from unions, corporations, nonprofits or any group registered with the Internal Revenue Service as 501(c)(4) and also 501(c)(6) to make it more complex. Donations from these groups can go directly to candidates or to political groups.
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.
A campaign fundraising letter that public land commissioner candidate Patrick Lyons sent ranchers who lease land from the State Land Office is raising legal and ethical questions a month before voters decide whether to return him to the job he held for eight years. Should Lyons win the seat this November, he will be in charge of renegotiating leases with companies seeking to renew those agreements. About 30 percent of the money Lyons has raised so far in his run has come from lessees, according to a review of campaign finance records. A copy of the letter was shared with New Mexico In Depth and is addressed “dear agricultural lessee.” It goes on to describe Lyons’ record as a rancher and farmer, and as previous land commissioner. It then states, “I am running for Commissioner of Public Lands in 2018 and need your help to get elected so that the agricultural lessees have a voice at the State Land Office.” The letter asks the reader to consider donating $100 to $1,000 before concluding, “Let’s make sure agriculture has a voice in the Land Office.”
Lyons used a list from his previous time in office to reach out to ranchers, and didn’t duplicate the effort for the oil and gas industry.
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.
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.
In our society, money buys things. That includes at places like the Roundhouse in Santa Fe, where the textbook ideal is an informed citizenry empowered to ask elected officials educated questions about how decisions are made but where the reality often is more muddy.
What money buys in Santa Fe is a pressing question these days in New Mexico, where in the past three years, a former secretary of state has pleaded guilty to embezzlement and a former state senator has been convicted of bribery.
Albuquerque bans contributions to candidates for elective office from businesses or individuals who make money from city contracts, but that doesn’t prevent owners of those companies from giving to candidates in a different way. The practice is on stark display in a recent campaign report filed by mayoral candidate Brian Colón, who returned contributions from several companies with city contracts on September 12 and then accepted contributions from the owners of those companies about a week later. Owners are allowed to give as individuals or through other companies they own. In his report filed September 22, Colón showed he had returned contributions from contractors identified previously to him by KOB Channel 4, reported by KOB on September 19. The report also reflected that Colón had accepted contributions from the owners of those companies, as either individuals or through their other companies.