ABQ city councilor’s political group steps up to PAC

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Another political season. Another new political group with a forgettable but vaguely feel-good name.

In March, a new entity registered with the Secretary of State: Working Together New Mexico. Albuquerque City Councilor Louie Sanchez, who represents part of the city’s westside, has said its purpose is to support the campaigns of particular candidates. 

Sanchez didn’t file a report last week saying how much the group has raised and spent despite a state deadline. Nor did he file a no activity report, a minimum requirement of groups that register with the Secretary of State under the campaign reporting act. 

Yesterday, six candidates in the June 7, 2022 Democratic primary wrote Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver to request an immediate investigation of Working Together New Mexico for not filing a report. 

“This PAC has developed a website, launched a PR campaign, raised funds, and retained a prominent consultant…to say they haven’t spent $1,000 yet just doesn’t pass the smell test,” Tara Jaramillo, running for State House District 38 in central and southern New Mexico, stated in the press release sent out by campaign consultant, Neri Holguin.

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Here’s what we found out, after looking into it yesterday and today.

The group retained professional political consultant James Hallinan, whose email and phone number are listed on the registration, and a website has been created. Hallinan responded via text message to me this morning, saying “the PAC is a client.” The website identifies former Public Regulation Commission member Karen Montoya as a co-leader with Sanchez. 

Hallinan also said that the group wasn’t required to file on April 11 because it fell under the spending threshold, per advice it received from the Secretary of State’s office. 

As it turns out, the group has now re-registered as a political committee, with its new registration active just this morning. In common parlance, we call these “PACs”.

Previously it was registered in a different category for groups spending under $5,000.

What does this tell us? We can only speculate. But the campaign reporting act requires any group that raises or spends $5,000 to register as a political committee. So possibly, the group has met those thresholds as of today. The next report is due May 9. 

Staying abreast of political spending can easily be a full-time job during an election year. 

History tells us that a political committee could at any moment unleash a scorched earth campaign against a candidate, out of the blue and in the dark. 

One of the most notorious examples, for me, happened in 2017 when a prominent westside Albuquerque developer and a southern New Mexico oilman launched an advertising campaign with a video and billboards that suggested mayoral candidate Tim Keller was soft on sex offenders. The ominous ads showed a dark figure in a hoodie, a boy on a bicycle, and a crying girl with a man’s hand over her mouth. The public didn’t know who paid for the ads at first. 

The billboards were up for about a week before westside Santolina developer Jeffrey Garrett released a statement that he was partially responsible, 24 hours before the campaign finance deadline. (Garrett wasn’t a stranger to forming PACs in the final stretch of a campaign to wage negative attacks. The year before he was a major funder of another pop-up PAC that ran ads against a vocal opponent of the Santolina development.)

The sex offender ads roiled the city, but Garrett let his identity remain secret until the day before the PAC was required to file its report. 

In 2020, two nonprofit groups tested new rules requiring they report political spending. In both cases, the new State Ethics Commission was able to hold them accountable. We followed the ins and outs of those cases throughout, including the settlements with both groups. 

This year, the group led by Sanchez has been quiet. We’ve yet to see ads or other activity, beyond its website. We’ll see what’s next. 

Every election cycle sees such groups pop up. They often go negative. As the 2022 election season heats up, New Mexico In Depth will focus specifically on how groups comply with reporting requirements, because they mandate that groups disclose  information that helps the public discern what special interests, or ideological groups, are trying to influence their vote.

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