COMMENTARY: If money could always buy elections, Las Cruces would have a new mayor and a more conservative City Council.
But it didn’t happen in November despite a flood of conservative, largely out-of-town money aimed at grabbing power in New Mexico’s second-largest city. That should encourage New Mexicans who are concerned about efforts by the wealthiest among us to own our political system.
Finance reports filed in late December reveal that spending by independent, conservative groups on the Nov. 3 Las Cruces election was even greater than previously known – more than $155,000 from four different political action committees:
- GOAL WestPAC, which was formed in 2013 with the help of U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., spent $86,061.18, most of it on negative attacks against incumbent Mayor Ken Miyagishima and City Council candidates Kasandra Gandara and Jack Eakman. Voters rejected the PACs disingenuous assault on Miyagishima, who easily won re-election. Eakman and Gandara – whose campaign had impressive grassroots support – narrowly won their races.
- A PAC called Advance Las Cruces spent $48,239.53 on its unsuccessful efforts to help Miguel Silva defeat Miyagishima. Most of that money went to a company owned by Gov. Susana Martinez’s top political adviser, Jay McCleskey, who has been under FBI scrutiny. It funded mailers, radio ads and robocalls. Advance Las Cruces got its money from a new state-level PAC called Prosperity and Action New Mexico, which hasn’t yet had to file a report telling us who funded the effort.
- The National Association of REALTORS Fund spent $14,383.91 trying to help Silva defeat Miyagishima.
- Create Jobs Doña Ana, a PAC tied to the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce, spent $6,839.16 trying to help elect Silva and three city council candidates. All the candidates they endorsed lost.
The spending was even greater than we are allowed to know. GOAL Advocacy, a nonprofit tied to GOAL WestPAC, conducted an extensive get-out-the-vote effort. It posted on Facebook on Oct. 30 that it was looking for 120 volunteers to complete 1,000 hours of phone calls urging people to vote in the Las Cruces election.
Because it’s a nonprofit, GOAL Advocacy doesn’t have to tell us how it’s funded or how much money it spent. That’s what we call “dark money.”
To be fair, there was PAC and nonprofit activity on the left related to the election. But ProgressNow New Mexico’s PAC spent a whopping $3,100 to influence the election, and any support ProgressNow’s dark-money nonprofit provided the PAC appears to be minimal. There wasn’t any other spending by left-leaning PACs.
This isn’t an endorsement of left-leaning candidates. I liked some of the conservative-backed candidates on the ballot. And to be fair, Miyagishima didn’t do much to engage voters in funding his campaign, which he largely self-financed. That’s not ideal either.
But I’m concerned about efforts by the wealthy to buy elections with massive amounts of money – sometimes dark, sometimes from out-of-town. I’m concerned about their willingness to divide communities and discourage voters with heavily negative attack ads.
The left in America has embraced dark money too. Though it didn’t happen in this instance, left-leaning groups often outspend the right in New Mexico. I’m not cool with such activity regardless of the ideology.
In this case, voters in Las Cruces rejected efforts by out-of-town interests to buy our local election. I can’t say I’m disappointed by that. Because I’m not.