New Mex­ico not alone in see­ing out-of-state cash

Out­side sup­port pour­ing into lo­cal cam­paigns across na­tion


In New Mex­ico’s State­house, Jim­mie Hall is some­thing of a fix­ture: The vet­eran Repub­li­can rep­re­sen­ta­tive has served District 28 in this sun-dried, high-desert city for seven terms.

For much of Hall’s ten­ure, the district, in the foothills of the San­dia Moun­tains on the east­ern edge of Al­bu­querque, has been re­li­ably con­ser­va­tive, so much so that he’s coasted to vic­tory with­out hav­ing to face any Demo­cratic op­po­nent in his three most re­cent re-elec­tion bids.

But this year is dif­fer­ent. In Novem­ber, Hall will square off against Melanie Stans­bury, who is among a slew of young, pro­gres­sive Democrats run­ning for of­fice at ev­ery level of gov­ern-

ment across the coun­try.

It’s a hy­per­local race to rep­re­sent about 30,000 New Mex­i­cans. What’s sur­pris­ing, though, is how much oth­ers out­side the Land of En­chant­ment are par­tic­i­pat­ing in it. More than one-third of the money the two can­di­dates have raised came from out of state — the lat­est sign that Amer­ica is pay­ing at­ten­tion to what hap­pens even in state leg­isla­tive dis­tricts in a mo­men­tous year when so much is at stake.

To fend off Stans­bury’s chal­lenge, Hall has stepped up his fundrais­ing game: His war chest of $65,000 is al­ready big­ger than what he raised for his bids in 2016 and 2014 com­bined. Al­most a third of it came from out of state.

Still, Stans­bury has out­per­formed her op­po­nent and raised about $124,000, net­ting al­most 40 per­cent from out-of-state donors.

This level of out-of-state sup­port isn’t unique this year. Na­tion­wide, many Democrats run­ning for state-level of­fices from gov­er­nor to state rep­re­sen­ta­tive are also haul­ing in a sig­nif­i­cant amount of do­na­tions from across state lines, ac­cord­ing to a Cen­ter for Pub­lic In­tegrity anal­y­sis of cam­paign fi­nance data col­lected by the Na­tional In­sti­tute on Money in Pol­i­tics.

Though Democrats still trail Repub­li­cans in the over­all fundrais­ing tally, they have raised at least $101 mil­lion from out of state — about $29 mil­lion more than their GOP coun­ter­parts have taken in — as part of the newly en­er­gized “blue wave.” That’s a far cry from the 2014 elec­tions, when Repub­li­cans ended up out­rais­ing Democrats by al­most $9 mil­lion in out-of­s­tate con­tri­bu­tions and by $191 mil­lion over­all.

Gov­er­nor races

The Cen­ter for Pub­lic In­tegrity’s anal­y­sis also found that:

The ma­jor­ity of money ■ from out of state is go­ing to can­di­dates for gov­er­nor and lieu­tenant gov­er­nor — who of­ten run on the same ticket. To­gether, they have raised about three-fifths of the more than $173 mil­lion from across state lines.

Three gu­ber­na­to­rial ■ can­di­dates — in Penn­syl­va­nia, New York and Wis­con­sin — have each raised at least $5.5 mil­lion from states other than their own, mak­ing up be­tween 18 per­cent and 50 per­cent of their cam­paign funds. Na­tion­wide, out-of-state con­tri­bu­tions make up only 10 per­cent of di­rect gu­ber­na­to­rial fundrais­ing.

Democrats run­ning for ■ state leg­isla­tive seats are re­ly­ing on a larger pool of out-of-state donors who give in smaller amounts — rais­ing an aver­age of about $640 per donor from more than 64,000 con­trib­u­tors, com­pared with about $2,200 per donor from more than 13,000 con­trib­u­tors for their GOP coun­ter­parts. This gap has widened markedly com­pared with the same pe­riod in the 2010 elec­tions, when an aver­age out-of-state donor gave about $1,030 to Democrats and $1,210 to Repub­li­cans.

The in­flux of out-of-state con­tri­bu­tions comes from a mix of com­pa­nies with lo­cal in­ter­ests, net­works of con­tacts scat­tered across the coun­try and newly em­bold­ened na­tional groups — on both ends of the ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum — that are mo­bi­liz­ing to in­flu­ence state-level elec­tions, mind­ful that the out­comes will have an im­pact on pol­i­tics at the state and na­tional lev­els last­ing well into the next decade.

What hap­pens in Novem­ber could de­ter­mine the fate of abor­tion laws in the states or the fu­ture of Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion, if the U.S. Supreme Court moves to un­der­cut Roe v. Wade or the Af­ford­able Care Act. And gover­nors and many law­mak­ers elected this year will still be in of­fice when the re­sults of the 2020 cen­sus come back and re­draw­ing of the con­gres­sional map be­gins — a process largely con­trolled by state leg­is­la­tures, with many gover­nors hold­ing a veto pen.

With the stakes so high, the grow­ing in­flu­ence of money from out of state de­mands closer ex­am­i­na­tion, said Dan Weiner,

se­nior coun­sel at New York Uni­ver­sity’s Bren­nan Cen­ter for Jus­tice, which ad­vo­cates for tighter cam­paign fi­nance rules. Ul­ti­mately, he said, it poses fun­da­men­tal ques­tions about state sovereignty: Who should re­ally have a say in how each state is run?

“It is very trou­bling to think that peo­ple would lose con­trol of their own elec­toral process,” Weiner said. “It used to be that, at least at the state level, the in­ter­ests of con­stituents vastly out­weighed any in­ter­ests com­ing from else­where around the coun­try. But that’s no longer true, to some ex­tent, be­cause of the pro­lif­er­a­tion of the cam­paign fi­nance free-for-all.”

Alaska case

In a lit­tle-known case out of Alaska, fed­eral courts have been weigh­ing whether the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion al­lows states to im­pose lim­its on out-of-state con­tri­bu­tions, an is­sue that could soon go be­fore the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case, Thomp­son v. Heb­don, is chal­leng­ing Alaska’s strin­gent cam­paign fi­nance rules that limit how much can­di­dates for state-level of­fices can raise from out of state.

The case is now pend­ing be­fore the 9th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals af­ter a

lower court up­held the con­tri­bu­tion limit.

David Fon­tana, a law pro­fes­sor at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity, said the case has the po­ten­tial to reach the Supreme Court, re­gard­less of how the ap­peals court rules. “This is emerg­ing as a sig­nif­i­cant — and new enough — con­sti­tu­tional is­sue that the court might take the case, par­tic­u­larly be­cause they have never fully con­sid­ered the state self-gov­ern­ment is­sue,” he said.

If Alaska pre­vails in court, it will likely em­bolden some states to im­pose sim­i­lar lim­its, said Ron Fein, le­gal di­rec­tor of Free Speech for Peo­ple, an Austin, Texas-based ad­vo­cacy group that has filed an am­i­cus brief in sup­port of the con­tri­bu­tion limit.

Wis­con­sin race

Out-of-state con­tri­bu­tions to state-level elec­tions this year has al­ready ex­ceeded $173 mil­lion, a jump of more than 40 per­cent from the same pe­riod in 2010.

The Cen­ter for Pub­lic In­tegrity’s anal­y­sis shows that a sig­nif­i­cant amount of do­na­tions from out of state has gone to some of the most com­pet­i­tive gu­ber­na­to­rial races. Top­ping the chart is the close con­test be­tween Wis­con­sin Gov. Scott Walker, a Repub­li­can seek­ing a third term, and Demo­cratic chal­lenger Tony Evers, su­per­in­ten­dent of the Wis­con­sin De­part­ment of Pub­lic In­struc­tion.

Among can­di­dates for state-level of­fices, Walker has raised the most from out of state, haul­ing in about $11.5 mil­lion to make up more than half of his cam­paign funds. Evers, mean­while, is trail­ing by some dis­tance: He has man­aged to raise about $2.5 mil­lion, one-fifth of which came from across state lines.

Walker’s and Evers’ cam­paigns de­clined to com­ment.

To be sure, Walker’s and Evers’ fundrais­ing tal­lies can of­fer only a par­tial ac­count of the money in­flu­enc­ing Wis­con­sin pol­i­tics. Af­ter the U.S. Supreme Court’s Cit­i­zens United de­ci­sion in 2010, the role of in­de­pen­dent po­lit­i­cal groups has been grow­ing na­tion­wide, with hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars be­ing raised and spent to di­rectly in­flu­ence vot­ers in fa­vor of spe­cific can­di­dates. Such groups can be bas­tions of out-of-state money that gets doled out to key races from of­fices around Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

The Cen­ter for Pub­lic In­tegrity is a non­profit, non­par­ti­san investigative news­room in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. For the full story, go to pub­licin­

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