Inside the Capitol

Sunday, May 25, 2008

5-28 Willing to Invest Their Own Money

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- It used to be easy to pick winners. But money in politics isn't what it once was.
Until a decade ago, I could look at fundraising statistics and predict the winners of most political contests. It especially worked in open races where there were no incumbents.
Fundraising ability tends to equal vote getting ability. But that was back in the days of retail politics when the candidates actually talked to people. The only time they see people one-on-one any more is to get a shot for a TV commercial.
In today's wholesale politics, millionaires buy seats in Congress and the governor's office. Special interests use hundreds of thousands of dollars to benefit their favorite candidates. And big sums are raised through mass Internet solicitations.
Wholesale politics made their appearance in New Mexico in the mid-'90s when Gary Johnson self-funded most of his governor's race. Indian gaming interests bankrolled much of the rest.
Then in 1998, state Sen. Phil Maloof spent millions trying to win a seat in Congress. Heather Wilson put an end to that but now with four seats in Congress up for grabs, we have a free-for-all in the 2nd and 3rd congressional districts to see who can spend the most money.
In the 2nd Congressional District Republican contest, Ed Tinsley got in early. We knew he had money from watching his previous run when Rep. Joe Skeen vacated the seat. Tinsley tossed in a "modest" $150,000 of his own money, saying it likely would take $1 million to win. He's now raised $777,000.
Aubrey Dunn, Jr. got in saying $300,000 was the most he was going to contribute personally. But now he's kicked in over $200,000 more. For a total war chest of about $670,000.
Greg Sowards jumped in with $325,000 of his own money. And then came Monty Newman with $100,000. He's raised $357,000 total but that has been augmented by almost $1 million in third-party expenditures by the National Association of Realtors. It has used much of that for television advertising.
At this point, it doesn't appear that besting his two closest opponents by $300,000, give-or-take, will win it for Newman. In fact, Dunn, the third leading money raiser may win it.
In the 2nd district Democratic contest, Harry Teague has made a big splash with some $687,000 in personal contributions and loans to his campaign for a total kitty of about $1.1 million. His one opponent, Bill McCamley is lagging at $393,000 but he's raised it all himself and is running a competitive race.
Up in the 3rd Congressional District, Don Wiviott is the champion Daddy Warbucks with a $1.3 million contribution to his campaign.
Ben Ray Lujan, running in second with a measly $200,000 in personal loans to his campaign, calls Wiviott a multimillionaire Texas developer. That's about the three dirtiest words in the northern New Mexico vocabulary. Lujan appears to be ahead in the race.
In the U.S. Senate race, Steve Pearce and Heather Wilson, who both already are in the House, have their well-developed mailing list of special interests and generous individuals churning out the money.
The interesting part comes when the winner squares off against Rep. Tom Udall. He has no primary opposition and a $2.9 million head start on the GOP winner who will be broke at the end of a hard-fought primary campaign.
It will take some help from national Republican sources to jump start their Senate candidate in that race. Unfortunately for GOP congressional candidates, the national party hasn't been doing as well as Democrats at raising money for the general election campaign.
Financial disclosures indicate the reverse is true at the state level, with the Republicans outstripping Democrats, who spent all their money on the ill-fated presidential primary caucus.
I'm not sure what it says when candidates throughout America are willing to invest their own money in a political campaign. But it's a far cry from New Mexico's longest-serving Governor, Bruce King, who never spent a dime of his own money on a race.
WED, 5-28-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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