A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
June 3, 2012
Note: The bulk of this column was written before news broke about the Reform New Mexico Now PAC, which is associated with Gov. Susana Martinez's political operation. Before this is over you're going to need a program to keep up with all the independent expenditure groups.
The House District 46 race has turned into an increasingly nasty spitball fight between Santa Fe Mayor David Coss and his supporters, and self-styled outsider Carl Trujillo and his supporters. While each side has relentlessly ripped on the other, one of the more curious attacks has come from an outside force — a right-wing group from Albuquerque.
The New Mexico Business Coalition doesn’t think very highly of Coss. But, as I reported Thursday, they think about him enough to send out mailers to voters in Santa Fe lambasting Coss’ performance as mayor. “Call Mayor Coss and tell him Santa Fe deserves better. He should return contributions from questionable sources, focus on jobs, reduce crime, and forget about a second job as a state representative,” the mailer says.
It makes me wonder why a conservative, anti-tax, anti-regulation group would be so interested in a Democratic primary in a district that’s so heavily Democrat (71 percent Democrat to 18 percent Republican) that the GOP didn’t even field a candidate for the seat being vacated by House Speaker Ben Luján.
The coalition, according to its website, is a “non-partisan advocacy group that will openly speak the truth about business issues, public officials, candidates, legislation and regulatory policies.” The website says the group will promote a “pro-business environment” in ways that include “printed information that will be mailed to registered voters.”
OK, they say they’re nonpartisan. Even though the coalition’s principal officer currently is a member of the state Republican Central Committee, I can’t call this a “Republican” attack on Coss.
But I also can’t say it’s not Republican. The fact is, we don’t really know who’s behind the group. As the coalition proclaims on its website, the group is a “501c(4) nonprofit corporation that has no obligation to report our source of contributions to the IRS. And, in fact, we will not disclose contributions outside of our Board of Directors, making your contribution completely anonymous.”
On Friday, the coalition’s principal officer, Carla Sonntag, defended keeping contributors secret. She said much of the cost of the mailings comes from membership dues, so, in effect, each member could be considered a contributor. She argued that the mailings are just a fraction of the group’s total budget.
She also argued that when unions make contributions to candidates, they don’t have to list individual union members.
Sonntag is also the director of New Mexico Utility Shareholders Alliance and has written op-eds for papers, including this one, in support of energy companies.
District 46 isn’t the only Democratic primary in which the coalition is getting involved. A news release Friday pointed to several. The group heaped praise on incumbent Sen. Phil Griego of San José as well as Sen. Richard Martinez of Española. Sonntag said the coalition sent out mailers in Martinez’s District 5 race, but not in Griego’s District 39.
The group’s news release also sang the praises of Coss’ opponent, Trujillo.
As I reported last week, Trujillo also was the target of an attack by a group hiding behind anonymity. Something called the Concerned Citizens for an Honest Debate bought $440 worth of radio ads on KSWV sliming Trujillo. The concerned citizens don’t have to report contributors because expenses were under $500. Later, a mailer surfaced attacking Trujillo, and it’s also not clear who sent that.
In a way, these anonymous attacks might just be big chickens coming home to roost. Back in 2008, progressive nonprofits in Albuquerque came under criticism from conservatives for sending out “voter education mailers” highly critical of certain incumbents — mostly conservative Democrats — before the primary.
In this post-Citizens United world, I’m afraid this is the way of the future.