Apodaca dark money group funded in part by oil and gas

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This is New Mexico In Depth’s mid-week newsletter. We think it’s crucial to stay in touch and tell you what’s on our minds every week. Please let us know what’s on your mind as well. Or, got tips? What do we need to know? Contact us: [email protected]

A new political group is spending thousands on radio ads to support certain Democratic candidates in the primary election. Who’s funding the group is largely a mystery. 

Founded by former Democratic gubernatorial candidate and businessman Jeff Apodaca, the group is the newest iteration of the “pop-up pac” – a term we use at New Mexico In Depth for the highly predictable appearance during election seasons of groups trying to sway the outcome of elections without disclosing their donors.

Last month, New Mexico In Depth wrote about progressives targeting incumbent Democratic state legislators, part of the ongoing intra-family political squabble happening within the state Democratic party. The mission of Apodaca’s group appears to be defending some of those incumbent Democratic legislators and to go after some progressive lawmakers in turn. 

On the Bob Clark KKOB radio program on May 1, Apodaca said some of his donors are oil and gas companies, and that he’s not required to file a report with the Secretary of State about who has contributed because the group is an educational nonprofit. 

He described progressive political action committees, which he is opposed to, as funded by dark money from out of state. In the next breath, he described the money he’s raised as coming from within New Mexico, as though it is not dark money.

But until he discloses his donors, Apodaca is running a dark money political operation. 

“Dark money” refers to keeping secret who (individuals or entities like corporations, nonprofits, PACs) is giving money to a group that is trying to affect the outcome of an election through advertising and other activities, not whether the money comes from within or outside of New Mexico. 

The goals of “The New Mexico Project,” which Apodaca incorporated in September 2023, are unabashedly about getting certain candidates elected. 

The group has spent at least $10,000 on local radio ads that urge listeners to visit their website “to learn more about the candidates who share our vision.” Contracts with three local radio stations, filed with the Federal Communications Commission, show the ads running from April through early June when the primary will be held. 

Apodaca was pretty frank on Clark’s show about his goals. Here’s some of what he said: 

  • “The New Mexico Project is to basically support pro-business moderate candidates, and it’s time to start fighting back against the progressive candidates that are out there. “
  • “There are six senators and representatives that are incumbents that the progressives are trying to take out.  If they do take them out, they’ll have a supermajority and you forget about New Mexico. We’re done. We’re done. So we’re protecting those guys because they believe in our industries. “
  • “We raised about $300,000 dollars, very quietly helping the seven state senators.”
  • “We’re self independent expenditure. We can go raise as much money as we want. We don’t have to disclose our donors.”
  • “We’re going in and educating the voters on what we need to do to get out and vote, and vote for the right candidates.”
  • “We’re primarying progressives.” 
  • “…Our radio commercial just ran and we’re telling people to go to New Mexico project.com, take a look at the candidates that we’re supporting.”

Ever play Whac-a-Mole?

That’s the game that comes to mind around this time every election year when pop-up political groups with vague but feel good names appear out of the ether, spending money to influence the outcome of elections. 

These groups are often very much alike, while employing different approaches. In the case of The New Mexico Project, the son of a former governor who ran his own failed bid for governor just a few years ago is very prominently making the media rounds promoting the group’s website, which explicitly supports particular candidates. 

His position that he doesn’t have to disclose his donors might put him at odds with New Mexico’s campaign disclosure laws. 

Or, it might not. 

A game played by a small but motivated set of people involves finding loopholes in the state’s Campaign Reporting Act so that they can operate dark money groups. 

A major addition to the state’s disclosure laws in 2019 attempted to make sure political groups like Apodaca’s disclose their donors, even if they are nonprofits that are otherwise not required to register as political action committees. 

Two groups in 2020 tried to circumvent the law – finding, they asserted, what we’d call loopholes – and one of them got away with it

Whether Apodaca has figured out how to legally flout the spirit of the law in this case remains to be seen.  

New Mexico In Depth would like to talk to Apodaca about the role of dark money in our elections, but he hasn’t returned our calls or emails. The next campaign finance reports are due Monday – we’ll be watching to see if he files a report. 

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