SANTA FE, New Mexico — Democratic and Republican groups exempt from contribution limits have pumped more than $2 million into legislative and statewide office races during the past three weeks as New Mexicans began casting ballots.
The spending underscores the importance of contests that will decide whether the GOP gains control of the state House for the first time in more than a half century and retain the secretary of state's office, which it won in 2010 after Democrats held it for 80 years.
According to the latest finance reports, a Democratic PAC — Patriot Majority New Mexico — spent about $890,000 from Oct. 7 through Tuesday. Early and absentee voting got underway during that critical campaign stretch.
The group's expenditures included $360,000 on radio and television ads, $108,000 on mailings and about $361,000 donated to other political committees that are supporting Democrats through door-to-door canvassing, advertising, mailings and get-out-the-vote efforts.
A GOP committee, Advance New Mexico Now, spent about $520,000, including $264,000 on mailings and almost $65,000 on radio ads. It contributed $150,000 to another PAC — New Mexicans for Honest Leadership — that spent most of the money on ads and mailings to aid the re-election bid of GOP Secretary of State Dianna Duran.
Other state and federal super PACs reported spending about $800,000 this month.
The groups can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to independently advocate the election or defeat of candidates.
A Democratic PAC, SOS for Democracy, reported to the Federal Election Commission that it spent about $350,000. Most of that went for TV ads, according to advertising contract filings with New Mexico stations. The group is supporting Democratic challenger Maggie Toulouse Oliver in the secretary of state's race.
Another Democratic-leaning group, Verde Voters PAC, spent almost $192,000, with about three-fourths of that going for radio ads. The PAC is affiliated with an environmental group, Conservation Voters New Mexico, and is targeting legislative races. It also gave $10,000 to SOS for Democracy for buying TV ads in the secretary of state's contest.
A GOP federal super PAC, GOAL WestPAC, reported spending almost $179,000 for ads in targeted legislative races.
Here's a summary of fundraising in the past three weeks by candidates in statewide races:
—Secretary of state: Duran spent $260,355, with nearly all of for TV ads. Oliver reported expenditures of $216,274, and ads accounted for 85 percent of that. Oliver raised $107,833 and Duran $80,307.
—Attorney general: Democrat Hector Balderas spent $425,400, which was nearly five times more than Republican Susan Riedel. TV accounted for almost $290,000 of Balderas' expenditures and Riedel spent nearly $79,000 on TV and radio ads. The Democrat raised $84,188 and Riedel collected $52,692.
—Land commissioner: Democratic incumbent Ray Powell spent $118,433 compared with $82,602 by GOP challenger Aubrey Dunn. Ads represented nearly all of the expenditures by each candidate. Powell raised $69,127, including a $15,000 personal loan. Dunn collected $29,820 in contributions, with a little over half from ranchers.
—Auditor: Democrat Tim Keller spent $155,380, which was 16 times more than Republican Robert Aragon. Keller poured $111,000 into TV and radio and Aragon spent $9,700 on ads. Keller raised $65,601 to Aragon's $4,020.
—Treasurer: Democrat Tim Eichenberg spent $26,954, with more than two-thirds for radio and TV. Republican Rick Lopez had expenditures of $21,672 and nearly all of it went for ads. Lopez received $9,965 in contributions and Eichenberg raised $33,674, including personal loans of $21,799.