PACs pour money into legislative races

Associated Press Modified: November 1, 2012 at 7:31 pm •  Published: November 1, 2012

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Political groups free from campaign finance restrictions are pouring millions of dollars into New Mexico's legislative races that will determine whether Democrats hang on to their majorities in the House and Senate.

A PAC with ties to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez on Thursday reported spending $1.4 million on House and Senate races last month, with $4 of every $5 going for advertising and mailings.

That was matched by a Democratic-leaning group called Patriot Majority New Mexico, which spent $1.3 million during October. More than three-fourths of that went for mailings and ads.

Reform New Mexico Now, which was formed by the governor's supporters, reported raising $1.6 million last month and is targeting about two dozen legislative races. Its top donor was a national GOP group, the Republican State Leadership Committee, which contributed $715,000. Sheldon Adelson, owner of the Las Vegas Sands casino empire, gave $200,000. Adelson and his wife are leading donors to political groups backing GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Two oil and natural gas companies, Occidental Petroleum and Devon Energy Production, each gave $100,000.

"We are committed to leveling the playing field for reform-minded legislative candidates by countering the out-of-state leftwing special interest groups who spent more than $2 million in just the last few weeks," Jay McCleskey, the governor's political strategist who runs the PAC, said in a statement.

His tally for Democratic groups covered a host of PACs ranging from Patriot Majority to committees formed by Democratic lawmakers.

Patriot Majority raised $619,500 during October, with most of that from labor unions. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees contributed $200,000, a political committee of the American Federation of Teachers gave $150,000 and a PAC of the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters contributed $180,000.

Patriot Majority is backing about 20 House and Senate candidates, said Craig Varoga, the PAC's president and a Washington, D.C.-based Democratic strategist.

"The pro-jobs campaign of Patriot Majority New Mexico and our allies includes radio, TV, online communications, direct mail and an active grassroots campaign, door-to-door canvassing, paid phones and get-out-the-vote activities," Varoga said in a statement.

So-called super PACs like Patriot Majority and Reform New Mexico Now can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money in campaigns because of federal court rulings, but the groups must operate separately from candidates.

Verde Voters PAC, which was formed by an environmental group, spent $272,908 last month and about three-fourths of that went for mailings and television advertising.

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