How Industries Are Contributing To New Mexico Candidates

NMEW News:

The oil and gas industry continues to be a major contributor to New Mexico political campaigns. But “Big Oil” is not the only industry active in financing New Mexico politics.

New Mexico Ethics Watch recently analyzed data pertaining to campaign contributions linked to hot-button issues likely to be debated in next year’s Legislature.

The areas are firearms, cannabis, film and tobacco: the same issues studied in the January 2020 report on lobbying by New Mexico Ethics Watch. 

That report can be found at http://nmethicswatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/NMEW-Lobbying-Report-Final-.pdf Here are the chief findings of New Mexico Ethics Watch, based on the first and second general election campaign finance reports filed with the Office of the Secretary of State.

The reports detail campaign contributions for a period of just over four months between June 30 and Oct. 5, 2020: 

Firearms 

Firearms legislation nearly always is a hard-fought, emotional issue during New Mexico legislative sessions. In 2019, after being thwarted for many years, the Legislature passed and Gov. Michelle Lujan-Grisham signed a bill requiring background checks of nearly every firearm. A handful of other gun-control bills also became law that year. On the campaign contribution front in recent years, the battle has increasingly been one-sided in the favor of gun-control advocates.

Of the $170,800 contributed by gun control advocates since June 30, nearly 97 percent came from the pro-gun control organization Everytown for Gun Safety, which is backed by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, a former mayor of New York City. All those contributions went to Democrats.

The New York-based Everytown reported $165,00 in political contributions in late September and early October. Another gun-control advocacy group, Giffords PAC, has contributed $2,500 to candidates during the general election season. As has been the case in recent years, the National Rifle Association, the major gun-rights organization in the nation, has contributed dramatically less in this state than gun-control groups.

The NRA made $2,000 in contributions to four Republicans in September. Instead of campaign contributions, in recent years, the NRA has mostly invested its time and resources in arming sympathetic county sheriffs and other local actors with materials and arguments designed to persuade the public and Legislature to oppose gun control legislation. 

Cannabis 

Medical marijuana, which has been legal in New Mexico for more than a decade, helped spur the creation of a cannabis industry in the state. In recent years, the state Legislature has become more serious about legalizing the drug for all adults, with the state taxing and regulating sales.

The governor supports the move, and the House of Representatives recently passed a bill to legalize recreational cannabis use by adults. The future of cannabis legalization probably lies with the state Senate, which could become more liberal after this election. So far in this general election cycle, the cannabis industry has contributed just under $105,000 to politicians and their committees. More than 90 percent of that total went to Democrats.

The state’s largest cannabis company, the Arizona-based Ultra Health, headed by Duke Rodriguez, a former cabinet secretary during Gov. Gary Johnson’s administration, provided $71,500, about 80 percent of this money.

The Albuquerque-based Purlife, another major cannabis company in New Mexico, contributed $20,000. All of that went to state Senate Democrats. The company is owned by Republican Darren White, another Johnson Cabinet secretary and a former Bernalillo County Sheriff. The major candidate recipient of cannabis money during the first two reporting periods has been Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, who reported $5,000 in contributions. 

Tobacco

Between 2017 and the end of 2019, the tobacco industry contributed more than $400,000 to New Mexico candidates. During that same time period, less than $10,000 came from anti-smoking groups such as the American Cancer Society. There were several bills in the 2019 legislative session that would have banned or restricted vaping. Also, bills were introduced to raise the purchasing age on e-cigarettes and tobacco products from 18 to 21. Only one of these passed, a bill that restricts indoor vaping. It’s not clear whether there will be any major tobacco legislation next year. So far in this election cycle, the tobacco industry has contributed less than $40,000 to New Mexico politicians.

By far the major tobacco contributor has been the Virginia-based Altria Corporation, which has given more than $23,000. The next largest contributor is RAI Services Company of North Carolina. About 80 percent of the tobacco contributions come from out of state. Republicans are receiving about 60 percent of the tobacco money during this election.

State Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque received $4,500 in tobacco contributions. Other major recipients include Rep. James Strickler, R-Farmington, Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, and Republican Senate candidate Ryan Chavez, each receiving $2,500 from tobacco interests. So far there have been no contributions from anti-smoking groups. 

Film 

In 2019, the Legislature passed and the governor signed a law that increased the amount of the annual cap of tax rebates for film production from $50 million to $110 million. Under the new law, “New Mexico film partners” — companies that agree to purchase or lease a film production facility in the state for at least 10 years — are excluded from the cap and not subject to limitation. There are only two companies that currently meet those requirements: Netflix and NBC Universal. It’s not known whether there will be any significant legislation pertaining to the movie industry next year — and so far this election cycle, political contributions from the industry have been minimal.

So far in the general election cycle, those associated with the film industry have contributed less than $19,000 to political campaigns. More than 95 percent of that came from New Mexico contributors. 

Democrats have received all of the film industry contributions so far. The largest contributor in this area was film worker’s union IATSE Local 480, which has made about $9,000 in contributions so far.

New Mexico Ethics Watch will continue to analyze general election campaign finance reports as they become available, crunching the numbers on oil and gas and other industry contributions. To learn more: click here.

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