Democratic lawmaker defends campaign spending

Democrat State Rep. Ambrose Castellano in interviews justified expensing a trip to Hawaii, new vehicle tires and restaurant tabs of more than $1,000 to his campaign as not only allowable but necessary to perform his legislative and political duties.  

Castellano’s defense comes in response to the campaign of his primary opponent, Anita Gonzales, promoting a recent complaint to the State Ethics Commission as evidence that Castellano used campaign funds for personal expenses. But Castellano said in an interview he did not intend to break campaign spending rules and that he welcomes a fair review by the Ethics Commission. He called the complaint an attempt to discredit him as a Hispanic leader in the midst of the primary election campaign he is currently running. 

“I do very well for myself and I wouldn’t put myself in jeopardy in any situation to do something” that is not allowable, Castellano, who owns his own Santa Fe based construction business, said. 

Castellano is currently trying to fend off a challenge from Gonzales for the District 70 House seat in San Miguel and Torrance Counties in the June primary election. 

In the ethics complaint, Damon Ely, a former Democratic state representative and Albuquerque attorney, alleged Castellano spent thousands of his campaign funds on personal expenses going back to 2020. 

“Representative Castellano reports having reimbursed himself for $6,233.75 in gas around the state and in Texas. He spent a total of $8,101.79 for hotels in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Chama, and Honolulu. He shows having charged at least $14,773.52 in meals eating out over 135 times and 84 of them in Santa Fe, a district he does not represent,” Ely wrote in the complaint dated April 15, 2024.

Progressives going after incumbents in hot Democratic primaries

It’s a safe bet Democrats will barrel into 2025 with their supremacy intact at the New Mexico Legislature. Barring an unexpected shock during this year’s elections, Democrats’ stranglehold on power is assured.Going into the 2024 contests, Democrats control nearly two-thirds of all seats in the House and nearly three of every five seats in the Senate.The question going into the June primary election is whether the party’s progressive wing will continue to increase power in the Legislature or will more centrist Democrats hold ground.  This year’s effort by progressives is the latest in a long standing campaign, stretching back to the mid-2000s, to bring more progressives into the Legislature. In 2008, progressives successfully replaced a slate of centrist Democrats with newly minted candidates who are now political veterans, including the launch of current Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s political career, who joined the Senate that year. 

Because of this one-party dominance, the ideological fault lines within the Democratic Party have major policy implications on abortion, the environment, education and workplace issues like minimum wage and paid family and medical leave benefits. 

Progressive political candidates and committees have raised tens of thousands of dollars for bids to oust certain Democratic legislators in June’s primary election. 

New Mexico’s progressive political machine was buoyed dramatically in 2020 when insurgents unseated long-time Democratic incumbents viewed as more centrist or right of center. The first campaign finance reports filed April 8 show progressive insurgents amassing thousands in contributions from individuals.  And the efforts of progressive independent expenditure committees will undoubtedly benefit their campaigns. 

Incumbents hold an advantage in corporate money, with energy, healthcare and hospitality interests giving big.