For months, Beth Petersen paid acquaintances to take her son to school — money she sorely needed. They'd lost their apartment, her son bouncing between relatives and friends while she hotel-hopped.
This story was produced as part of a collaboration with the Center for Public Integrity, The Seattle Times, Street Sense Media and WAMU/DCist. See New Mexico In Depth's story here.
Two years ago, in March 2020, Delfine Gabaldon visited a food pantry for the first time. He’d been laid off from work at the start of the coronavirus lockdown and didn’t know how he would make ends meet.
For 32 years, Delfine had worked as a mechanic.
When Vangie Randall-Shorty’s son, 23-year-old Zachariah Juwaun Shorty, went missing in July 2020 and was found dead a few days later on the Navajo Nation, communicating with law enforcement emerged as one of the primary roadblocks to the search for answers. Most of the police officers involved in the case, which remains unsolved more than two years later, could be more compassionate and make her feel heard, says Randall-Shorty (Diné).
Growing up in Albuquerque, high school junior Brook Chavez, who is Diné, never had a Native American teacher until last year, when she took a Navajo language and culture class.
There, the 16 year old learned more about her culture and connected with other Diné youth, coming away prouder about who she is. She felt understood by her teacher, David Scott, also Diné, in ways she hasn’t always in the classroom.
“I learned a lot about my clans, my stories,” Chavez said, adding that at the end of the first semester, she and her classmates performed at Native American Winter Stories, an Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) event.
New Mexico lawmakers in 2019 doubled campaign contribution limits for those seeking seats in the Legislature or running for governor, arguing they needed more money to compete against a deluge of outside spending.
Now, in the first gubernatorial election since 2019, those higher limits appear to have paid off for incumbent governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, and her Republican challenger, Mark Ronchetti.
They’ve both already raised more than candidates raised in 2014 and 2018 during the same time period under the previous, lower contribution limits. Lujan Grisham raised by the first week of September as much as she did for the entire 2018 election.
But there’s another difference too, one that if it was foreseen wasn’t mentioned when lawmakers in years past debated increasing the limits: the majority of the cash used by Lujan Grisham and Ronchetti to run for office this year comes, so far, from a small set of well-heeled groups of individuals and businesses, unlike the previous two gubernatorial elections.
Campaign finance reports reveal multiple instances of tens of thousands of dollars coming from groups of people related through business or family connections, such as spouses, children, and parents.
The higher limits mean such groups can collectively give a much greater amount than before, and in turn garner the greater access and influence that potentially follows.
It’s unclear if one person acts as a “bundler” of such donations, because New Mexico doesn’t require people to disclose the fundraising they do among friends, family or colleagues to support particular candidates.
But groups of related businesses or families and the amounts they’ve given can be identified by examining information reported by candidates, particularly the physical or mailing addresses of donors.
Sixty percent of around $10 million raised by Lujan Grisham through the first week in September has come from donors at just 357 of the more than 13,000 donor addresses provided in her reports.
And 53% of the almost $6.5 million Ronchetti has raised comes from donors at just 206 of the 9,112 addresses in his reports.
From each address in those small groups, the candidates gathered at least $10,000.
Lawmakers concerned about New Mexico’s worst-in-the-nation rate of alcohol-related deaths are focused on revising how the state taxes alcohol. Last month, the Legislative Health & Human Services Committee chose an alcohol tax increase as one of its top priorities for 2023 and next week, another committee will hear tax experts present on the topic.