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Lobbyists, clients spend heavily in legislative races

Oil companies, gun control group are among top donors

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

BY DAN MCKAY

JOURNAL CAPITOL BUREAU

SANTA FE — Lobbyists and their employers poured about $2.3 million into New Mexico campaigns over the past five months — about one-third of it on behalf of energy giant Chevron — as voters prepare to decide every seat in the Legislature.

The donations are outlined in reports filed with the Secretary of State’s Office last week, covering activity from May 5 to Oct. 5.

A lobbyist for Chevron USA reported $772,500 in contributions on behalf of the company to Republicans and Democrats alike, including $25,000 apiece to each party’s legislative caucus in the House and Senate.

The largest donation in the past five months, according to a Journal analysis, was by Chevron: $350,000 to New Mexico Strong, a Texas-based political committee that backed Democratic state senators who faced primary challenges from the left.

“We make political contributions to support the election of candidates who believe, like we do, in the value of responsible oil and gas development,” Chevron spokeswoman Veronica Flores-Paniagua said in a written statement. “Our contributions are made in accordance with the law.”

A gun-control group also weighed in heavily. A lobbyist for the Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund reported $155,000 in political contributions to Democratic candidates and numerous political committees.

Other major players include Occidental, Sunland Racetrack and Casino, and ConocoPhillips.

Dede Feldman, a retired Democratic state senator, said the disclosure reports are a vital way for ordinary New Mexicans to track how their own contributions compare with donations by larger special interests.

“The public,” she said, “deserves to know who is funding candidates who purport to speak in their name.”

Feldman, who wrote a book about the state Senate, has co-written reports for


nonpartisan groups, such as Common Cause New Mexico and New Mexico Ethics Watch, examining campaign finance and political activity in state government.

Chevron has been a big spender for years, she said. Advocacy groups on both sides of the debate over firearms legislation have also spent heavily, she said, though more of the recent spending has been by gun control groups rather than gun rights groups, such as the NRA.

The donations reported last week come as all 112 seats in the Legislature are on the ballot. Democrats hold a 46-24 edge in the House and a 26-16 edge in the Senate.

The $2.3 million in reported contributions by lobbyists and their employers went largely to legislative candidates and political action committees. Voters will weigh in on the governor, attorney general and similar executive offices in 2022.

Among the big spenders, according to state records and a Journal analysis, in the most recent five-month period are:

The Emissary Group, a consulting firm that reported $80,000 in contributions on behalf of Occidental, a petroleum company, and $46,000 on behalf of BNSF Railway.

Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino, which reported $79,500 in political contributions. Lawmakers have been weighing a plan to relax some of the state’s restrictions on racetrack casinos.

Ultra Health, a medical marijuana company whose lobbyist reported $47,500 in donations. Much of the money went to Democratic candidates, although the company also supported Sen. Mark Moores, one of the few Republican legislators to back legislation legalizing recreational cannabis.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, has made legalizing marijuana one of her legislative priorities.

ConocoPhillips, a major oil company, which reported $49,000 in contributions. Proposals to impose new environmental regulations or change the tax system for oil and gas production are perennial topics at the Capitol.

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