Large special interests square off in District 30 Democratic primary  

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Angel Charley and Clementes Sanchez are facing off in the June 4, 2024 primary for Senate Seat District 30. Images from their campaign literature.

Many of the same special interests groups and big-money donors active in the 2020 primary race for Senate District 30 have returned for the 2024 election cycle as they seek to shape the ideological makeup of the Democratic Party.

The race for the district — a sprawling district that encompasses all or parts of Isleta, Acoma, Laguna and Zuni pueblos as well as Alamo Navajo — features Clemente Sanchez, a former Democratic state lawmaker defeated in the 2020 primary, and political newcomer Angel Charley, a member of Laguna Pueblo and the Navajo Nation. 

The race showcases the power of moneyed interests and their willingness to square off to elect their preferred candidate.

A review of campaign finance reports reveals that more than two thirds of the $60,000 Sanchez has raised for next week’s primary election has come from corporate interests, including the medical, energy, automobile and alcohol industries, as well as utilities and lobbyists. 

More than two thirds of Charley’s haul – $110,000 — has come from tribes, lawmakers, trial lawyers, or advocacy groups working on environmental, labor, reproductive health and other progressive issues. 

The winner of the June 4 Democratic primary election will face no Republican opponent in November’s general election.

A retired banker who is also a registered lobbyist for the Continental Divide Electric Cooperative in Grants, Sanchez served in the Senate for two terms from 2012 to 2020. He was defeated in 2020 after groups such as No Corporate Democrats, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, Planned Parenthood of New Mexico, OLÉ and Conservation Voters New Mexico flooded the district with negative ads attacking Sanchez’s votes on the environment, abortion and early childhood education. 

Some of those same groups are again targeting Sanchez as a tool of corporate power. 

“Our grandpas used to say “tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are,” a Facebook ad by OLÉ, a progressive group, says. “Over the years, Clemente Sanchez has taken thousands in donations from corporations like oil and gas, the banking industry and predatory payday lenders.”

“I don’t answer to special interest groups …” Sanchez said in an interview. “I answer to what my district wants and what’s good for my district.”

Some of his 2020 donors are stepping up to support Sanchez, who was the chair of the Senate’s Transportation and Corporations Committee. In addition to what he’s raised this year, Sanchez is using $126,874 left over from his 2020 campaign warchest, giving him a cash advantage out the gate. He’s also benefiting from advertising by a dark money group, The New Mexico Project, which is running ads supporting his campaign. It’s unclear who is funding the group’s advertising as it has not disclosed its donors. 

Among his donations are $5,500 from Devon oil company, $4,000 from an automobile dealers trade association, $4,500 from alcohol and hospitality business interests, and $4,050 from nine well-known professional lobbyists.

Another 33 individuals contributed $15,025, which is a quarter of his campaign account. 

As in 2020, big donors who want to influence New Mexico’s healthcare policy have returned to tilt this year’s contest in their favor.

Medical interests represent the single-largest group contributing  to Sanchez – $11,900 – going into next week’s election. 

Sanchez reported receiving $5,500 from the Hospital Services Corporation, which is the political committee for the New Mexico Hospital Association, $1,000 from the New Mexico Health Care Association and $2,500 from the New Mexico Medical Society’s political committee. The contributions were a part of a fundraiser held by medical groups, Sanchez said. All three groups supported Sanchez’s 2020 run, records show. 

His solution to the state’s doctor shortage is one those interests have long advocated. 

“We need to look at our tort laws,” Sanchez said. “These doctors, these practitioners, they cannot get malpractice insurance. That’s why they’re leaving the state.”

Medical groups and the New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association for years have battled over medical malpractice lawsuits, with doctors arguing for capping payouts at a lower threshold than attorneys want. One of Charley’s largest contributions, $5,000, came April 15 from the Committee on Individual Responsibility, which represents the New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association.

“I haven’t met with the trial lawyers yet, but I have spoken with their lobbyist a couple of times really briefly on the phone,” Charley said. “And they’re supporting me in hopes of, ‘When you’re in office, we’ll have those conversations’” about the issue. The trial lawyers are the only business interests among the large donors to Charley. 

On April 24, Virginia-based Altria, one of the world’s largest producers and marketers of tobacco and other nicotine products, gave Sanchez $1,000. Altria also donated to his 2020 campaign.

In 2019, Sanchez, who said he has never been a smoker, sponsored Senate Bill 166. The bill proposed to increase the tax for a pack of cigarettes by 20%and incorporate e-cigarettes and the fluids they carry into the state’s tax regime. But it also proposed to cut taxes on little cigars and did not provide as high of tax increases as health advocates had hoped for. 

“This is not a bill to cut down on smoking,” Sanchez declared in a Feb. 25, 2019 hearing of his Corporations and Transportation Committee. A representative for the American Heart Association agreed and prodded lawmakers to ask why “the tobacco lobby and the other groups will get up and support this bill.” In a fiscal impact report, the New Mexico Department of Health said the bill would have the effect of making cartridge-based tobacco products “even more attractive to price-sensitive youth, thereby likely increasing … nicotine addiction among youth in NM.” The bill died after Sanchez shepherded it through three Senate committees.

“That’s just a company that believes in my fairnesses and my openness and that I look at all sides of an issue,” Sanchez said of Altria. 

“We have to stop being in the practice of protecting corporations and corporate interests,” said Charley, who has not served in the legislature before, adding that she would solicit community input on the issue before determining how to vote on it. 

In addition to her campaign donors, Charley, the executive director of the Native American advocacy nonprofit IllumiNative, is benefiting from the efforts of independent groups who worked in 2020 to depose Sanchez. 

Planned Parenthood Votes of New Mexico — with the help of $100,000 April 22 contribution from the independent group Better Future for New Mexico — is again buying Facebook ads slamming Sanchez over his 2019 vote against a bill that would have decriminalized abortion in the state. This same group has also provided in-kind support to Charley’s campaign valued at almost $2,000.

“The abortion issue is resolved; it’s not an issue any more,” Sanchez said. “It’s legal in the state of New Mexico … That’s all I have to say on that.”

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