A super PAC funded by out-of-town oil, gas, ranching and farming interests continued its barrage of negative attacks against Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima over the weekend.
GOAL WestPAC filed its first finance report with the City Clerk’s Office on Friday. Three donors — all from southeast New Mexico — have given a combined $80,000 in the last week to fund the group’s efforts to influence Tuesday’s Las Cruces municipal election, according to the report.
The group had spent $22,509.38 by Friday. All of that went to the public-relations firm Agenda, which is handling GOAL West’s mailers related to the Las Cruces election.
As NMPolitics.net has reported, GOAL West has endorsed one of Miyagishima’s opponents, Miguel Silva, in addition to City Council District 1 candidate Eli Guzman and District 4 candidate Richard Hall. Last week the group began attacks on Miyagishima, Guzman’s opponent Kasandra Gandara, and one of Hall’s opponents, Jack Eakman.
Miyagishima has taken the hardest hits. GOAL West launched an assault Friday evening that’s among the most harsh attacks political operatives told NMPolitics.net they can remember in New Mexico in recent years.
NMPolitics.net isn’t repeating the details of negative attacks from any candidate or group this close to Tuesday’s election.
GOAL West’s latest assault on Miyagishima included a post on its website that was widely disseminated through social media, flyers left on cars in the parking lot of at least one department store, robocalls to Las Cruces residents on Saturday, and a mass email.
The Las Cruces Sun-News declined an ad from GOAL West over the weekend related to the attack on Miyagishima.
“I refused to run the ad because we do not allow new allegations this close to Election Day — because the accused does not have time to respond,” Sun-News Publisher Frank Leto said. “That has been my policy for over 30 years.”
Those behind the attacks
GOAL West was formed in 2013 with the help of U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., though a spokesman said Thursday the congressman is “not involved in GOAL West’s operations.” In Las Cruces, the PAC is targeting candidates who are ideologically at odds with Pearce.
The PAC’s treasurer is Pearce’s brother Philip, who lives in Texas. Most of the PAC’s money comes from eastern New Mexico. The group is based in Hobbs, according to the finance report it filed with the city clerk. In the past it’s used an address in College Station, Texas.
GOAL West’s executive director is Burly Cain of Albuquerque, who also works for the libertarian-leaning Rio Grande Foundation.
The three funders of GOAL West’s efforts to influence the Las Cruces election are:
- Nancy Brantley, who owns a farm and ranch near Carlsbad with her husband George. She gave $30,000 to GOAL West. Brantley has made more than $54,000 in political contributions in the last six years, most in New Mexico, reports the National Institute on Money in State Politics (FollowTheMoney.org). Brantley’s donation to influence the Las Cruces election — which isn’t included in the institute’s database — is larger than any past contribution from her in that database. The next largest is a $25,000 donation Brantley made to GOAL West in 2014.
- Mack Energy Corp. of Artesia, an oil and gas company that donated $25,000. Mack Energy has given more than $570,000 in political donations in the last decade, most of it to New Mexico Republicans, according to FollowTheMoney.org. Its contributions have included $122,500 to Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, and two past donations to GOAL West totaling $40,000. In addition, Mack C. Chase, the company’s president, has given almost $106,000 in the last nine years, according to FollowTheMoney.org. Much of that went to help Pearce and 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
- Strata Production Co. of Roswell, an oil and gas company that gave $25,000. Strata has made about $180,000 in political contributions in the last 11 years, most of it to help New Mexico Republicans, according to FollowTheMoney.org. Its past giving includes five donations totaling $67,000 to GOAL West. In addition, the company’s president, Mark Murphy, has given more than $358,000 in the last 15 years, most of it to aid Republicans in New Mexico, according to FollowTheMoney.org.
Agenda, the company GOAL West is paying to help with its Las Cruces election work, is headed in Albuquerque by former Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Turner.
This apparently isn’t the first time Agenda has worked with a PAC to spend money from big donors to influence an election in New Mexico. In 2013, Albuquerque resident Jerry Ginsburg gave $40,000 to Concerned Citizens of District 2, a PAC that tried unsuccessfully to help Roxanna Meyers defeat Isaac Benton for a council seat in that city, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
Progressive activist Pat Davis, whose ProgressNow New Mexico is involved in politics in Albuquerque and Las Cruces, wrote a column in 2013 documenting apparent ties between Agenda and the Concerned Citizens PAC. Davis argued that Turner’s company “started the PAC” and “orchestrated” its attacks.
‘A super PAC playground’
No one is alleging that Agenda is orchestrating GOAL West’s attacks in Las Cruces. But the situation in Albuquerque helps illustrate why PAC spending matters. From the Journal:
Ginsburg’s $40,000 donation alone is almost as much as either Benton or Meyers can spend on the race themselves. They opted into the city’s public-financing system, which limits their spending to about $47,700 each.
Under the city system, political committees aren’t bound by contribution limits, the way mayoral and City Council candidates are. Mayoral candidates, for example, cannot accept more than $5,192 from any one donor.
GOAL West may be on track to outspend any other candidate or group involved in the Las Cruces election. If it spends the entire $80,000 it reported raising, that would be more than any candidate or group spent in 2011, the last time there was a mayoral election in Las Cruces.
The group’s next finance report is due in early December, a month after the election is over.
Spending by independent groups on local elections may be the new norm, The Huffington Post wrote in a Saturday article with the headline, “Your state and local elections are now a Super PAC playground.”
While the wealthiest Americans are dominating spending in the 2016 presidential and congressional races in the post-Citizens United era, “local and state elections in 2015 are also attracting big money from Forbes-listed billionaires and local wealthy interests that’s funneled through super PACs,” the article states.
Such spending on state and local races “often has more of a direct influence on government,” according to the article.
“When you look at smaller races, the relative importance of outside spending increases, both in terms of outcome of election and influencing policy,” the article quoted Rick Hasen, a University of California-Irvine law professor, as saying. Hasen is author of the forthcoming book, Plutocrats United: Campaign Money, the Supreme Court, and the Distortion of American Elections.
A prior version of this article incorrectly stated that Mack Energy Corp. is located in Hobbs, not Artesia. GOAL West’s finance report states that P.O. Box 960 in Hobbs is the address for Mack Energy, but the correct address is P.O. Box 960 in Artesia.