SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Fundraising is heating up for New Mexico’s legislative races next year that will determine whether Democrats hold on to their majority in the state House of Representatives.
A political action committee affiliated with House Speaker W. Ken Martinez, a Grants Democrat, raised $171,499 during the past six months, but a PAC operated by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez collected $313,151 during the same period.
The early fundraising by the two party leaders reflects the high stakes in the outcome of races for the 70-member House, which Democrats have controlled for more than a half century. Democrats have a 37-32 advantage in the House, with one seat vacant because of the death of Rep. Stephen Easley, a Santa Fe Democrat. The governor will appoint his successor from recommendations by county commissions and there’s a good chance a Republican will end up serving the remainder of Easley’s two-year term.
The governor uses her political committee, Susana PAC, to help influence state and local races, including the Legislature. The committee, which is separate from the governor’s re-election campaign, contributed $6,000 to three incumbent GOP House members last month who are expected to face tough re-election races next year — Kelly Fajardo of Belen, Paul Pacheco of Albuquerque and Sharon Clahchischilliage of Kirtland.
“Gov. Martinez is committed to helping elect common-sense candidates at the local level and that includes assisting Republican candidates for the Legislature,” Martinez political adviser Jay McCleskey said in a statement Wednesday.
Among the top donors to the governor’s PAC were Herzog Contracting Corp., and Stanley Herzog, the CEO of the parent company, which each gave the maximum of $10,400. A Herzog company operates New Mexico’s commuter rail service, the Rail Runner Express.
Giving $20,800 combined were Stanley Harper, who has ranches in New Mexico and Texas, and his cattle company. New Mexico Racing Commission member Ray Willis of Roswell and his wife gave a total of $20,000. Koch Industries contributed $5,000. The company is owned by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, who are longtime supporters of conservative causes.
The governor’s committee had cash-on-hand of $128,794 as of Oct. 7, and the speaker’s committee had a balance of $121,231.
The speaker’s PAC contributed $2,250 to five House Democratic incumbents — Stephanie Garcia Richard of Los Alamos, Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales of Taos, Sheryl Williams Stapleton of Albuquerque, Nathan Cote of Organ and Patricia Lundstrom of Gallup.
Among the donors giving $5,200 to the speaker’s committee were Paul Blanchard, a developer and part owner in a horse racing track and casino in Albuquerque; Bill Robins, a Santa Fe lawyer, and a Texas law firm in which Robins is a partner.
In last year’s legislative races, two outside political groups that were free from New Mexico’s campaign contribution limits spent nearly $4 million. Democrats ended up retaining control of the House and Senate. Senators are not up for election in 2014, however.
A political committee with ties to Martinez, called Reform New Mexico Now — spent $2.4 million in the primary and general election campaigns. It paid for mailings and advertising in selected races. However, that committee has been closed, according to McCleskey.
A Democratic-leaning political group called Patriot Majority New Mexico dumped almost $1.4 million into general election legislative contests. Most of its money came from labor unions. The group’s latest campaign finance report showed it with a cash balance of $16,957 as of early October. It has raised no money in the past six months but spent about $1,800 on polling.