Citing Citizens United, PAC jumps into Cruces mayoral race

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Michael Ray Huerta

Rhode Island corporation’s PAC plans to work to elect Michael Ray Huerta and test the limits of Citizens United ruling

A Rhode Island corporation is forming a political action committee that will work to elect Las Cruces mayoral candidate Michael Ray Huerta in a move that’s designed to push the limits of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case.

Bobby Oliveira said his corporation’s left-leaning Total Newport Campaign PAC doesn’t intend to file finance reports disclosing funding sources and spending in Rhode Island or New Mexico. He said he expects that to lead to legal battles in both states but believes the secrecy will withstand legal scrutiny.

Oliveira said conservatives are taking advantage of the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United – which essentially said corporations and unions can spend unlimited amounts of money to support or attack candidates. He cited the Koch brothers’ funding of tea party activities and the effort to kill unions in Wisconsin.

“If the Koch brothers can do it, so can we,” Oliveira said.

If Oliveira backs up his words with action, his PAC could significantly change the dynamics in the Las Cruces mayoral race. Oliveira said the PAC will operate an independent expenditure in Las Cruces that can’t legally coordinate with Huerta. The PAC will knock on every door in the city twice, send out mailers in support of Huerta in the final two weeks of the campaign, and respond to any negative attacks against him, Oliveira said.

He has already brought on political activist Georgi Blumenthal of Las Cruces, who had been a volunteer on Huerta’s campaign, to work for the PAC.

Huerta, a 25-year-old political activist, faces incumbent Mayor Ken Miyagishima and District 2 City Councilor Dolores Connor in the Nov. 8 mayoral election.

Battle over disclosure is already brewing

Oliveira said the combination of weak campaign finance law in New Mexico and the Citizens United ruling means he can raise and spend what he wants in the mayoral race without disclosing any of it. In fact, he said New Mexico campaign finance law was one of the factors that led him to decide to support Huerta.

But Las Cruces City Clerk Esther Martinez said city ordinance requires that the PAC file a statement of organization and finance reports. The ordinance defines a political action committee as “every two or more persons who are selected, appointed, chosen or associated for the purpose of, wholly or in part, supporting or opposing a candidate at any election,” including corporations.

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The ordinance requires that such committees file finance reports with the city. Martinez said she’ll be in contact with Blumenthal to notify her of the requirements.

Steven Robert Allen, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, said if city ordinance requires PACs to file finance reports, the Total Newport Campaign PAC would have to do so.

“To the extent that this group exists entirely to support a candidate, they’re going to have to disclose their funding if city law requires them to, and there isn’t anything in Citizens United that says otherwise,” Allen said. “Quite the contrary, eight of the nine justices in that opinion gave an endorsement to broad disclosure requirements when it comes to this type of independent expenditure.”

Oliveira said he expects officials in Rhode Island and New Mexico to try to force him to file finance reports. He said he also expects threats and potentially lawsuits from the other mayoral candidates. He said he welcomes the chance to argue his case in court.

Having to ‘play politics’ to move Las Cruces forward

How did Oliveira end up focused on Las Cruces? He said some Huerta supporters worked with him in 2004 on Howard Dean’s presidential campaign. They became concerned that Huerta wasn’t raising enough money and decided to ask Oliveira for help after Huerta subjected himself to voluntary campaign contribution limits in a guest column published by NMPolitics.net.

Four Huerta-supporting Las Crucens involved in the PAC – Landon Richardson, Brad Wood, Anna Saenz and Anne Thompson – wrote in a letter released to the media that they “are very concerned that our preferred challenger, Michael Huerta, cannot overcome the powers of incumbency.”

“Please understand how much we love Las Cruces. We don’t like the idea that we have ‘play politics’ in order to move Las Cruces forward,” they wrote. “However, we are all adults and understand some sad realities about American democracy in 2011.”

Pressed for details about the PAC’s funding, Oliveira, a longtime Democratic activist in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, said this:

“I have deep connections in organized labor. I have deep connections in marriage equality. One of the corporate boards I serve on is a homeland security firm. The Total Newport corporation, which is being incorporated this year to set up the PAC, is involved in travel and tourism. So you can surmise from those things where our money’s coming from.”

He wouldn’t say more about funding or how much money he plans to spend in the mayoral race.

Miyagishima asks, will Huerta ‘stand by his convictions?’

In his recent NMPolitics.net commentary, Huerta called for “fairer, more transparent campaigns, and also wrote, “I strongly disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, allowing corporations the ability to spend as much money as they would like to support or attack a candidate.”

Referring to that commentary, Miyagishima said it will be interesting to see how Huerta reacts to the PAC’s intentions.

“This would be the first true test,” Miyagishima said. “Does he stand by his convictions or does he allow this organization here to do what they want to do?”

Huerta said there’s not much he can say or do.

“Because it’s against the law for campaigns to coordinate with PACs, I won’t comment on what steps they should take in regards to reporting,” Huerta said. He added that he has never met Oliveira or the four Las Crucens who wrote the letter released by the PAC.

Huerta said he’s been actively raising money and already has more donors than Miyagishima did during the entire 2007 campaign. He said he’s honored to have support from so many people, including donors from 25 states and the Total Newport Campaign PAC.

Huerta said the PAC’s involvement should not distract from the issues in the campaign.

“This campaign should be about the future of Las Cruces and which candidate can best advocate on behalf of all Las Crucens,” he said. “It shouldn’t be about a political action committee. It shouldn’t be about Citizens United. It should be about making a Las Cruces that works for all families.”

Oliveira says out-of-state support won’t hurt Huerta

Oliveira said he doesn’t anticipate that his out-of-state support will turn voters away from Huerta.

“If your candidate’s message is strong and he or she is the right person, then the folks on the ground won’t be too upset with who delivers it,” Oliveira said. “I think they’ll respect Michael, they’ll respect his message, they’ll like him.”

Oliveira said his PAC has never supported a candidate in this manner, but he was looking to get into a race this year to test Citizens United before the 2012 election, when he plans to engage in issue advocacy in Rhode Island. His idea to put together a positive ground organization in favor of a candidate or issue came after he watched two initiatives regarding gay marriage and charter schools fail in Rhode Island. He said mismanagement plagued both.

“I started putting the building blocks together and, magically, the request from Las Cruces appeared,” he said. “… The Citizens United case opens up an invasion angle where you can take a failed political operation, especially if arrogance and amateurism are the reasons for the failure, and resuscitate it using proper methodology.”

“Rhode Island should have gay marriage and should have charter schools,” he said. “The effort in Las Cruces, ironic as that may be, could move Rhode Island closer to those goals.”

30 thoughts on “Citing Citizens United, PAC jumps into Cruces mayoral race

  1. totalnewportcampaignpac

    BobbyO1967

    Good places to eat in Las Cruces

    Nopalito’s, Dicks Cafe, Compas, Nellie’s, The Mix, Japanese Kitchen. In my opinion. There are others but those are a good start for your gauge in Cruces.

    But for a real great meal and place to check out (and a place where some political strategies are mapped out on napkins) is Chope’s in La Mesa.

    While your at it check out the Bakery in Mesquite, it has some damn good pan dulce.

    Let me know if you need a guide to these spots

  2. Just catching up with some of you because it’s only fair to hear from me directly and not just staff or writers or whoever all the time:

    Durable, it may be a miscarriage of justice but it also sets the law. I don’t fight with one hand tied behind my back.

    LCvoter, Mr. Huerta never had your vote in the first place. If the Mayor’s team is going to use plants, can they at least stay away from old formulas??

    ShowMe, you could be right. It’s my job to prevent you from being right. Nothing personal you understand.

    Artiofab, I will only authorize negative ads if Michael is attacked. I’d rather spend the efforts of the team on field work.

    Wedum59, if you were me coming into the situation and you knew you could improve a hard working person’s financial prospects, who would you hire?? By the way, I’m not expecting you to be impressed – just stating a fact.

    Hemingway, glad you brought some of that up. That was an effort to unseat a Mayor. Guess what happened at the next election?? He got unseated. Love when that happens. RI politics may not be to your taste. That’s ok.

  3. @ durablebrad:

    Mr. Oliveria is a very busy business man. However, if it means a lot to everyone, he will take the time to post himself, his time is limited, but he will do the best he can.

  4. I had absolutely no intentions of getting involved in this race, but I just happily donated $100 to Mayor Ken via his website http://www.mayorken.com/ after reading this article and its comments. As someone who fought against the half million dollars Swift Boater and Texas billionaire Robert Perry donated to Susana Martinez in 2010, I find this to be wrong for New Mexico and I would urge others to donate to Ken as well.

  5. Wow, seems like we have a FOX news contributor, on our hands. Not only was the case dismissed in 2008, Mr. Oliveria was apologized to by the police. However, that brings up a more important issue; Mr. Oliveria knows that he has a past, because he readily admits that he is an alcoholic in recovery. He has been sober since September 23, 2002. Before that date, there are numerous alcohol related arrests, and incidences. While Mr. Oliveria continued to be successful in campaigning his personal life was a mess. On September 23, 2002 he turned his life around and on September 23 he will celebrate his 9th anniversary of sobriety. He will happily talk via phone, e-mail or in person to anyone who wants to know how his recovery has affected his career.

  6. Artiofab is absolutely right. Just because “someone has been here longer” doesn’t make them a better representative and should not be used effectively by any of the candidates. I also do not really care about Huerta’s changing in political affiliation. He is young, and these things happen as people grow and learn.

    I am however, very concerned with Huerta’s inability to stand by his convictions. While making the argument that “Michael has not broken anything that he has promised in his article. He is not taking money directly from the PAC as it clearly states in this article they are running an INDEPENDENT expenditure,” is technically true it leads to a massive question regarding his integrity. If he truly believes, as I do, that Citizens United was a bad decision, then he should vigorously and publicly reject this PAC. I know he can’t make them stop, but he can make use it as a way to push for the ethics reform that so far the City Council has refused to touch.

    For him to come out with a statement like he made in his column, and then basically say “No Comment” when that issue now plays in his favor reeks of hypocrisy.

    And for that, while I was leaning before him before, I probably am not now. Do what you say you are going to do, or be just like every other politician. I hope that the right choice is made.

  7. Bobby Oliveira of the Total Newport Campaign PAC is in trouble for his remarks in Rhode Island. Mr. Oliveira called various Newport city council members a “drunk” a “racist” and a “feeble hillbilly.” Then he questioned a gay member for supporting a Republican chairman.

    http://www.projo.com/ri/newport/content/EB_NPTOLIVEIRA21_11-21-06_2E2V8ML.3393acc.html

    Plus he was charged with harassment in 2008

    http://www.projo.com/ri/newport/content/EB_OLIVEIRA_15_07-15-08_50AS06O_v12.411da22.html

    Fellow democrats denounced him. Mr. Huerta picked up a fine supporter – a real troublemaker. Mr. Huerta should be beware of this guy.

  8. artiofab,

    Once again you have raised a very valid point. Judging merit based upon longevity of residence is the exact same reason our federal system of representation is in need of reform. Chairmanship of committees is decided by length of tenure in office, rather than by a measure of legislation achieved.

    The mayoral race in Las Cruces should be decided in a manner consistent with ideals of the people, and without prejudice or outside financial influence. That may sound idealistic, but such is the foundation of good governance.

  9. The slight air of xenophobia (“Huerta hasn’t been in town for long” “Oh yeah, well, Miyagishima has been here for even less!”) in a few of the preceding comments is incredibly awful. A valid complaint against New Mexico’s politics is that a lot of political candidates are either recycled over and over again until they win an election or are in politics because they knew the right people or are part of a family that’s political. One way to alleviate “Good ol’ boy” nepotism and cronyism is to vote for people who are new to the town/city/state.

    Argue about peoples’ credentials. Argue about their plans. Argue about their promises. But arguing about whether they have or have not “been here long enough” is insulting.

  10. Huerta hasn’t been living or working or volunteering politically in Las Cruces as far as anyone knows.

    In 2008, Huerta was elected to represent New Mexico to the Democratic National Convention. According to the county and state party, he has been a member of the county central committee for 4 years, as well as the state central committee.

    I know I first heard of him when he was the spokesperson for Rep. Harry Teague.

    Aside from that, his family has been in Las Cruces for 4 generations.

    Considering most of Ken’s strong supporters haven’t been in Las Cruces for even 5 years, I’d point your criticism elsewhere.

  11. @carlotta35

    Hillary Clinton, who Huerta worked for in several leadership capacities, is a “rightwing candidate”.

    Coulda fooled me!

  12. @ Carlotta

    First, if you would have paid attention to anything that Michael has put out there at all. He was the press secretary for Former Congressman Teague during the 2008 Election. Secondly, he has worked against issues of teen suicide and bullying within New Mexico to make sure that teens and others are protected in our state. Thirdly, Michael has not been bizarre and puzzling he has been upfront about what he has done and where he has been. He has been a registered Democrat since at least 2007, was a delegate from Hillary Clinton and the youngest to be every selected from New Mexico.

    I reject your claim that he has been working for right wing candidates, and in fact he has been supporting ideals the Democratic party stands for.

    Maybe you should get your facts straight before you go and bash a Democrat. If and when he wins, he will be your Mayor too.

    Also, I want to say I agree with artiofab, that Michael has not broken anything that he has promised in his article. He is not taking money directly from the PAC as it clearly states in this article they are running an INDEPENDENT expenditure.

  13. Talk about an Unknown Quantity! Huerta’s whole candidacy is puzzling and bizarre. He comes out of nowhere with a record of working elsewhere for rightwing candidates, hasn’t been living or working or volunteering politically in Las Cruces as far as anyone knows.

  14. My guess is that the Las Cruces financial disclosure law will be found unconstitutional (by the right wing majority on the Supreme Court) if it is tested.

    The other ironic thing is that, assuming he had the financial resources, M.R. Huerta could secretly contribute a million dollars to this PAC and they would not be required to report it. Show Me already reported that the PAC has hired Huerta’s right hand assistant (name, please?). How nice, and ironic, to get money for doing work you love.

  15. TeamPuroChile,

    Please allow those of us in the trenches, who risk our very lives to uncover local corruption and fight against it, the limited illusion of believing that there is hope for concentrated efforts to reform municipal and county governments in New Mexico. Is that really too much to ask?

  16. The problem is that there are people who vote on the basis of advertisements to begin with.

    If people voted on the basis of the issues, debates, analysis and voting records, all the money in the world wouldn’t matter.

    And hopefully, it may not matter.

    Consider the long list of zillionaire candidate failures:

    Ross Perot, Steve Forbes, Meg Whitman, Donald Trump.

    All loaded but losers.

  17. Oh how delicious, hypocrisy, out of state
    Billionaires and secret money, yep it is politics as usual.

  18. It’s effectively catch 22.
    What needs to be considered is what the candidate stands for that will affect his constituents, not how he gets into office. Getting into power is inherently slimy but it’s a catch 22. We have to look beyond campaign antics and especially money. If it’s legal then shut up when a candidate is backed into a corner and has to use it to win. If you don’t like it, change it.

  19. Mayor Miyagishima and one commentator below (Show Me) show some confusion on what Huerta wrote two weeks ago, and about this story as well.

    Here’s Huerta’s three promises from two weeks ago.
    1) My campaign won’t take more than $2,300 from any individual, nor will I take more than $5,000 from a political committee.
    He isn’t taking any money from this PAC, so he’s not violating his promise.
    2) That is why I will not take a penny in direct contributions from any business or corporation.
    This PAC is neither a business nor a corporation, and he’s not taking money from it, so he’s not violating his promise.
    3) That is why every ad or piece of literature I create and fund will disclose my campaign as having paid for it – negative or positive.
    Also not violating his promise.

    Have either Miyagishima or Connor agreed to abide by these promises? If not, then Huerta continues to forge the higher ethical road.

    I somewhat agree with lcvoter that it’s slightly obnoxious of Huerta to not do his best to isolate himself from this PAC. As long as he’s making promises, how about one along these lines:
    “My campaign will publicly denounce any negative ads produced by any PAC, regardless of its target”

    That sounds like something that all three candidates would be able to agree to, yes?

  20. “If outside corporation succeed in influencing the already flawed internal politics of New Mexico, then mineral extraction and dirty power industries will eventually control the agenda for the entire state, as well as local policies too”

    durablebrad

    Haaa who you kidding they already do!!!

    Run Strong Huerta!!! Lets play baby!!! Level that playing field!

  21. Bottom line is Huerta will not win. He will find out how Las Cruces responds to his secret money coming in to town to support his secret and still non specific agenda. And the fact that he said he would not take big pac money just days ago and is now totally selling out, is also not a great start to a new political career, and this too will be rewarded in kind by voters…just my guess.

  22. This is ridiculous. Huerta stood on openness several weeks ago …. calling out his opponents. Laws may prevent coordination between campaigns and PACs, but the laws do not prevent Huerta from speaking against the intent. Shrugging your shoulders, Michael, and jsut accepting it is very telling of how your leadership in office would progress. This is a time for you to stand by the true intent of your statement to the public and not some political spin. Come out publically and request the PAC to expose its funding sources.

    If I do not see that in the coming weeks, you have lost my vote and those in my circles.

  23. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was a miscarriage of justice.

    If outside corporation succeed in influencing the already flawed internal politics of New Mexico, then mineral extraction and dirty power industries will eventually control the agenda for the entire state, as well as local policies too. To quote Winston Smith: “That would be doubleplusungood.”

  24. @Show Me

    You said, “NOW, mere weeks later he [Huerta] openly accepts a secret PAC”.

    You do understand, don’t you, that it’s against the law for Huerta to “accept” the PAC in the way you described, and more importantly, any PAC can do anything they want without permission from anyone? So Huerta couldn’t stop this group even if he wanted to.

    And your claim that Huerta “recently became a Democrat”. I understand he’s been a registered Democrat since he worked for HIllary Clinton in 2007. That’s 5 years – a longer period of time than most Ken Miyagishima supporters have lived in Las Cruces.

    Sounds like Kenny’s people are getting nervous!

  25. So let me get this straight, Huerta writes an editorial in the last few weeks calling on the Mayoral canidates to not accept more than 5k from a PAC. NOW, mere weeks later he openly accepts and flaunts a secret PAC, with secret donors, coming in to Las Cruces to essentially bank roll and run his entire campaign. This is outrageous and totally unprecedented in Las Cruces politics. Even old Isaac Chavez had to report that 25k contribution from a Houston developer oil man when he ran for state leg.

    Also, when the law prevents coordination between the campaign and the PAC, the PAC is now hiring his right hand assistant? And she doesnt know his campign plan and how a PAC could best integrate within that? That doesnt sound like a skirting of the law, does it.

    Listen folks, Huerta used to work for Pearce, intern for the White House and only recenly became a Democrat…Does ANYONE really know where he stands, other than his non specific hyperbole?

    Its time for all of us to ask right now – Who is Micheal Huerta, who are his secret donors, what is his agenda.