$14.4M spent on gov­er­nor race

Lu­jan Gr­isham-Pearce con­test costli­est un­der do­na­tion lim­its


SANTA FE — New Mex­ico’s 2018 gu­ber­na­to­rial race fea­tured hard-hit­ting at­tack ads, deep-pock­eted out-of-state groups and hefty spend­ing by both gen­eral elec­tion can­di­dates.

Com­bined, Michelle Lu­jan Gr­isham and Steve Pearce spent more than $14.4 mil­lion in this year’s open race for gov­er­nor — a fig­ure that does not in­clude out­side spend­ing — de­spite a limit on the size of cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions they could re­ceive.

The to­tal spend­ing is among the high­est in state his­tory for a con­tested race for pub­lic of­fice and the high­est since the con­tri­bu­tion lim­its took ef­fect af­ter the 2010 elec­tion cy­cle.

“I think this is the new nor­mal,” said Uni­ver­sity of New Mex­ico po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor Lonna Atke­son, who cited the pro­lif­er­a­tion of cam­paign staffs as among the rea­sons for the growth in po­lit­i­cal spend­ing.

Lu­jan Gr­isham de­feated Pearce in the Nov. 6 elec­tion, win­ning more than 57 per­cent of the votes cast in a race that — with nearly 700,000 New Mex­i­cans cast­ing bal­lots — had the high­est voter turnout of any state gu­ber­na­to­rial con­test in re­cent his­tory.

On Thurs­day, she re­ported spend­ing roughly $545,000 in the fi­nal pe­riod be­fore Elec­tion Day and the weeks that fol­lowed, bring­ing her to­tal tally for cam­paign ex­pen­di­tures dur­ing this year’s elec­tion cy­cle to nearly $9.6 mil­lion. In all, Lu­jan Gr­isham raised roughly $9.7 mil­lion for her gu­ber­na­to­rial bid, which she first an­nounced nearly two years ago.

Those fundrais­ing fig­ures were nearly dou­ble the roughly $4.9 mil­lion that Pearce re­ported spend­ing on his cam­paign, although Pearce, un­like Lu­jan Gr­isham, did not face op­po­si­tion in the pri­mary elec­tion.

In ad­di­tion, some of the money Pearce re­ported rais­ing ac­tu­ally came from his con­gres­sional ac­count, af­ter he won a le­gal dis­pute over whether more than $780,000 in such funds could be trans­ferred to his gu­ber­na­to­rial ac­count de­spite the state cap on cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions.

In all, the com­bined spend­ing of the two gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­dates amounted to about $20 in cam­paign spend­ing for each vote that was ul­ti­mately cast.

Both Lu­jan Gr­isham and Pearce are mem­bers of the U.S. House who for­went re-elec­tion bids to run for gov­er­nor. It was the first time two sit­ting mem­bers of Congress faced off for New Mex­ico gov­er­nor in a gen­eral elec­tion.

This year’s race for gov­er­nor was open be­cause in­cum­bent Gov. Su­sana Martinez, a Re­pub­li­can, was barred from seek­ing a third con­sec­u­tive term in of­fice. She will step down at the end of the year.

Martinez spent nearly $11 mil­lion on her 2010 gu­ber­na­to­rial cam­paign — in which she won a five-way GOP pri­mary race and then de­feated Demo­crat Diane Den­ish in the gen­eral elec­tion — and an ad­di­tional $8.7 mil­lion on her suc­cess­ful 2014 re-elec­tion cam­paign.

Mean­while, out­side groups also spent big sums dur­ing New Mex­ico’s just-com­pleted elec­tion sea­son.

A pro-Demo­cratic in­de­pen­dent ex­pen­di­ture group, or su­per PAC, called Patriot Ma­jor­ity re­ported spend­ing more than $1.7 mil­lion this year to as­sist the cam­paigns of Democrats run­ning for state House seats.

On the other side, a Texas-based po­lit­i­cal com­mit­tee that launched hard-hit­ting TV ads in New Mex­ico’s land com­mis­sioner race in sup­port of Re­pub­li­can can­di­date Pat Lyons — who lost to Demo­crat Stephanie Gar­cia Richard — re­ported spend­ing more than $2.7 mil­lion.

That group, called New Mex­ico Strong, got most of its money in a $2 mil­lion con­tri­bu­tion from Chevron. It also re­ported Thurs­day get­ting $100,000 from Hous­ton-based Oc­ci­den­tal Pe­tro­leum Corp.

New Mex­ico’s cam­paign do­na­tion caps — which were set at $5,500 per donor for each the pri­mary and gen­eral elec­tion this year — don’t ap­ply to su­per PACs, which can ac­cept con­tri­bu­tions of any size but are barred from co­or­di­nat­ing di­rectly with can­di­dates.

The fundrais­ing re­ports filed Thurs­day with the Sec­re­tary of State’s Of­fice were the fi­nal manda­tory cam­paign fi­nance re­ports for this year’s elec­tion cy­cle. They cov­ered all cam­paign spend­ing and fundrais­ing from Oct. 31 through Dec. 1.

Per state law, the sec­re­tary of state will do a ran­dom au­dit of at least 10 per­cent of the cam­paign re­ports filed by can­di­dates and po­lit­i­cal com­mit­tees in the com­ing weeks.

Michelle Lu­jan Gr­isham

Steve Pearce

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