Big donors giving most of the cash for governor’s race

New Mexico lawmakers in 2019 doubled campaign contribution limits for those seeking seats in the Legislature or running for governor, arguing they needed more money to compete against a deluge of outside spending. 

Now, in the first gubernatorial election since 2019, those higher limits appear to have paid off for incumbent governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, and her Republican challenger, Mark Ronchetti. 

They’ve both already raised more than candidates raised in 2014 and 2018 during the same time period under the previous, lower contribution limits. Lujan Grisham raised by the first week of September as much as she did for the entire 2018 election. 

But there’s another difference too, one that if it was foreseen wasn’t mentioned when lawmakers in years past debated increasing the limits: the majority of the cash used by Lujan Grisham and Ronchetti to run for office this year comes, so far, from a small set of well-heeled groups of individuals and businesses, unlike the previous two gubernatorial elections. 

Campaign finance reports reveal multiple instances of tens of thousands of dollars coming from groups of people related through business or family connections, such as spouses, children, and parents.  

The higher limits mean such groups can collectively give a much greater amount than before, and in turn garner the greater access and influence that potentially follows. 

It’s unclear if one person acts as a “bundler” of such donations, because New Mexico doesn’t require people to disclose the fundraising they do among friends, family or colleagues to support particular candidates. 

But groups of related businesses or families  and the amounts they’ve given can be identified by examining  information reported by candidates, particularly the physical or mailing addresses of donors. 

Sixty percent of around $10 million raised by Lujan Grisham through the first week in September has come from donors at just 357 of the more than 13,000 donor addresses provided in her reports. 

And 53% of the almost $6.5 million Ronchetti has raised comes from donors at just 206 of the 9,112 addresses in his reports. 

From each address in those small groups, the candidates gathered at least $10,000. In many cases there is one donor at the address giving the maximum of $20,800 (half for the primary, half for the general election), but there are many instances in which the total given by multiple people or businesses sharing an address is double that individual legal limit or much higher. The giving reported so far spans the entire primary election cycle, which began Jan. 1, 2021, plus general election donations through early September.

Oil and Gas: Big giving, Big statehouse influence

Big questions loom as the 2022 primary election nears. Who will Democrats nominate for Attorney General, State Auditor Brian Colón or Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez? Who among a lengthy list of Republicans will challenge Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham this fall? Will a concerted effort by conservative forces to unseat a group of progressive Democratic incumbents succeed? I would add, will the oil and gas industry feel like a winner after the election?

Local redistricting efforts highlight tough choices

Screen capture of the Albuquerque Citizens Redistricting Committee meeting on April 27, 2022

At a recent Zoom meeting of the Albuquerque Citizens Redistricting Committee, members furrowed their brows and squinted into their computer monitors, examining a newly drafted map that would balance population in each of nine City Council districts. 

Member Travis Kellerman, a self-described data-obsessed futurist, had asked the committee’s consultants to find a way to empower voters by dividing the council districts in a way that didn’t pack so many socioeconomically vulnerable residents into two districts in the city’s southern half. The new concept cut the city’s International District in half vertically, combining each piece with wealthier neighborhoods north of I-40. Residents of the condos around Uptown Mall would be in the same district as a large swath of lower-income southeast neighborhoods. 

Members asked longtime consultant Brian Sanderoff for some help interpreting what the changes would mean. 

“The International District could end up with two members or zero members [representing them on the Council] and that’s a risk that one takes,” he said. “So you need to ask what’s most important, to preserve the communities of interest or to unpack the socioeconomically vulnerable areas.” 

That debate demonstrates the tough choices that face residents and politicians this spring. Months after the New Mexico Citizens Redistricting Committee and the state Legislature wrapped up their work redrawing boundaries for legislative and congressional districts, smaller governmental bodies are tackling the tricky and politically charged task, with mixed results.

ABQ city councilor’s political group steps up to PAC

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. This analysis originally appeared in our Friday newsletter.

It’s time for lawmakers to embrace transparency (Updated)

Update: Shortly after publishing the following newsletter on Friday, Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, wrote in an email to New Mexico in Depth that lawmakers would include transparency in a revised junior bill during an upcoming special session. She said lawmakers would use as a model new transparency measures passed last year for capital outlay allocations. “I wish we had done this originally but we think we have an answer to how to make those changes,” she wrote. Later on Friday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and legislative leaders announced a special session of the Legislature would convene on April 5, to take up a revised junior bill and consider measures they can take to help New Mexicans in the face of rising inflation. After sending out our newsletter last week about lawmakers’ outrage over the governor vetoing their dark spending bill, I had a moment of deja vu.

Staring down the clock, lawmakers make moves to keep voting rights alive

Every year it seems, bills people have sweated over for months languish in the final days of the legislative session. Only a few are destined to make it, in a competition for time involving many hard choices.  As the clock winds down to noon tomorrow, lawmakers are attempting to funnel bills through a window that grows smaller by the hour. 

At this stage, successful measures have broad support or the backing of lawmakers who have the muscle to push them through. And just about every year, momentous bills end up successful in the final hours thanks to intricate maneuvers. 

Take, for example, Senate Bill 8, which would update state elections law to expand voting rights, create more access to the ballot for tribes, and make it easier to vote by mail.  

It’s a bill that Democrats, who control the Legislature, really want and by the final week of the session it hadn’t made it to the House, thanks to a procedural maneuver — a call of the Senate — employed by Senate Minority Whip Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, that kept the voting rights measure bottled up. 

The bill is a local example of a national struggle over voting rights. Across the country, many states controlled by Republicans are passing laws that restrict voting to prevent what they say is voter fraud after the 2020 election.  Democrats respond there’s no evidence of fraud and the laws make it more difficult to vote, especially for voters of color. 

The impetus for the legislative battle in New Mexico came in January, when Democrats in the U.S. Senate failed to pass a voting rights bill that would have enshrined greater access to voter registration and voting due to GOP opposition. Essentially, the inaction left it up to individual states to decide whether to expand or limit access to voting.

ICYMI: Amid record revenue, lawmakers fail to address risk of waste and fraud

Legislative Finance Committee analysts described over reliance on emergency procurement as resulting from mismanagement in their October report. Legislative analysts have repeatedly warned since 2016 that government agencies’ increasing reliance on no-bid contracting puts New Mexico at increased risk of waste and fraud. Their most recent admonition came a month after a state grand jury indicted a former powerful lawmaker for racketeering, money laundering and kickbacks related to a no-bid contract. 

Lawmakers have largely ignored those warnings; in fact, a bill pre-filed for the legislative session starting Tuesday in Santa Fe appears to create new exemptions to the procurement code. Nor is reform a high priority for Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, whose three years in office have been marked by a sharp rise in no-bid contracting. 

“Such an item is not currently an element of the agenda,” said Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham, who has the power to set this year’s 30-day legislative agenda, as lawmakers are otherwise limited to budget matters. “But the governor’s office will, as always, review and evaluate potential initiatives.” 

Since 2019, Lujan Grisham’s first year in office, her administration has circumvented competitive bidding on at least 886 occasions, approving sole-source and emergency contracts worth more than $796 million, greatly outpacing her Republican predecessor, according to New Mexico In Depth’s analysis of reports from state agencies under Lujan Grisham’s control.

Amid record revenue, lawmakers fail to address risk of waste and fraud

Legislative Finance Committee analysts described over reliance on emergency procurement as resulting from mismanagement in their October report. Legislative analysts have repeatedly warned since 2016 that government agencies’ increasing reliance on no-bid contracting puts New Mexico at increased risk of waste and fraud. Their most recent admonition came a month after a state grand jury indicted a former powerful lawmaker for racketeering, money laundering and kickbacks related to a no-bid contract. 

Lawmakers have largely ignored those warnings; in fact, a bill pre-filed for the legislative session starting Tuesday in Santa Fe appears to create new exemptions to the procurement code. Nor is reform a high priority for Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, whose three years in office have been marked by a sharp rise in no-bid contracting. 

“Such an item is not currently an element of the agenda,” said Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham, who has the power to set this year’s 30-day legislative agenda, as lawmakers are otherwise limited to budget matters. “But the governor’s office will, as always, review and evaluate potential initiatives.” 

Since 2019, Lujan Grisham’s first year in office, her administration has circumvented competitive bidding on at least 886 occasions, approving sole-source and emergency contracts worth more than $796 million, greatly outpacing her Republican predecessor, according to New Mexico In Depth’s analysis of reports from state agencies under Lujan Grisham’s control.

Senate “buddymandering” meltdown

The New Mexico state senate approved a map last night for how its own districts will look for the next 10 years. The vote came after days of hurry up and wait, as lawmakers negotiated behind closed doors in an untransparent process. I’d give senators an “F” on two counts: they didn’t do their work in public, and they focused way too much on preserving seats for incumbent lawmakers. More on this in a moment. 

Many are calling what happened last night on the Senate floor a debate. I’d call it a meltdown.