New Mexico lobbyists steered $1 million to winning candidates in 2014, with nearly a half million to Republican House candidates.
That cash helped the GOP take over the House of Representatives for the first time since the 1950s.
A New Mexico In Depth analysis of state data shows that from 2013 to 2015, lobbyists guided $1.8 million to New Mexico campaigns.
More than $1 million went to Republicans, including nearly $462,000 to GOP House candidates, compared with $339,000 to Democratic House candidates.
NMID analyzed lobbyist donations using data from the Secretary of State’s office. Lobbyists are required to report campaign donations they deliver, though the checks are often written by business clients. Only 147 of more than 600 registered lobbyists reported making or delivering contributions to campaigns or candidates.
Some fear lobbyists and their clients’ cash carry outside influence on state lawmakers at the Roundhouse. Unpaid lawmakers may rely on experienced and highly paid lobbyists for their expertise.
New Mexico lawmakers also rely on lobbyists and their employers for food, drink and gifts during the legislative session. During the recent legislative session, lobbyists and their employers spent more than half a million in gifts, food and drink for lawmakers.
“Obviously your first thought is that they’re trying to make sure their legislation passes,” said Viki Harrison, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico. “On the flip side, lobbyists are donating to lawmakers who do support their issues.”
NMID standardized candidate and PAC names in the data and added information on candidate races, affiliation and race outcomes. A handful of donation recipients couldn’t be identified.
Among the conclusions:
- Most of the donations went to winning candidates; more than $1 million. Only $113,400 went to losing candidates. Lobbyists funnelled more than $310,000 to 41 state senators and more than $241,000 to party organizations or political action committees. Lobbyists also reported donations to federal, local and judicial races.
- Republican Gov. Susana Martinez was the top recipient, with more than $266,000 in donations coming via lobbyists. Her political action committee, Susana PAC, received $22,850.
- Republican House Majority Leader Nate Gentry received $65,700 while former Speaker of the House Ken Martinez, a Democrat, received $59,600. Martinez’s leadership PAC received $49,200. Gentry’s Republican Leadership PAC received $20,800, while Advance New Mexico Now, another PAC advocating for GOP House members, received $35,000.
- Only one successful House candidate – Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque – is absent from the list that lobbyists delivered donations to. Dines doesn’t accept gifts, food or donations from lobbyists or political action committees.
- J.D. Bullington was the top donor at $130,060, followed by Mickey Barnett at $117,800 and T.J. Trujillo at $112,184. All three represent multiple clients, mostly businesses.
The nearly $801,000 in donations to House campaigns accounted for 14 percent of the $5.6 million that went to the 70 House races.
Bullington said he was surprised that contributions from lobbyists and their clients weren’t a greater proportion of the House pie.
“I have always felt like money is magnified here,” Bullington said, citing New Mexico’s poverty, relatively small business community and low population. Money “plays a greater role and has a greater impact. I would have guess that number would have been higher.”
Most of Bullington’s listed donations are made on behalf of clients, he said, who “want to support those candidates and incumbents who are aligned with them politically and philosophically.”
But Bullington’s reports and those of many other lobbyists don’t always list the clients on whose behalf the contributions were made. Limited cross-checks of candidate filings indicate candidates often list contributions from the businesses that donated, not the lobbyists who delivered the donations.
One of the criminal charges against Secretary of State Dianna Duran, whose office oversees campaign finance and lobbyist filings, alleges she deposited a check from a lobbyist in her personal account rather than her campaign account.
Harrison said she’d like to see more disclosure from lobbyists on who is actually making contributions.
“If you did send the contribution through the lobbyist, have some detailed reporting, so people know,” she said.
Bullington said he’d like to see lobbyists banned from giving contributions with their own money to candidates. He said long-time individual lobbyists have plenty of power to influence policy already without contributing to campaigns.
Harrison said she’d heard that from other lobbyists as well.
“They all say that their retirement accounts would look a lot better if they weren’t allowed to contribute,” she said.
Former Sen. Phil Griego, a San Jose Democrat who resigned in March amid an ethics scandal, received more than $28,000 since 2013. Griego’s most recent campaign filing indicated he still had more than $48,000 in his account.
About $130,500 of the donations examined came after the Nov. 4, 2014, election, including $15,500 to the newly minted Don Tripp Speaker PAC and $11,350 to the new House Majority Leader Gentry.
The filings represent activity through the end of April. And the lobbyist donation numbers are sure to rise with the next filing date in January 2016.
Although the 2016 election is more than a year away, fundraising is already underway for what are expected to be highly contested House and Senate races as Republicans try to retain the House and take over the Senate.
Lobbyists often sponsor or co-sponsor fundraising events.
For example, Yates Petroleum Corp. lobbyist Kent Cravens, a former GOP state senator, hosted an August fundraiser for GOP Sen. Mark Moores of Albuquerque. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that lobbyists Drew Setter and Natasha Ning were among the sponsors of a recent fundraiser for House Speaker Don Tripp and other Republicans.
“With the cost of campaigns skyrocketing in the last few cycles, I expect that number will continue to grow,” Harrison said.