SANTA FE, N.M. (CN) — New Mexico’s top election official and four-term Republican Congressman Steve Pearce are settling a lawsuit over nearly $1 million from Pearce’s congressional campaign that he wants to transfer to his campaign for governor.
Pearce, 70, has represented Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District, in the southern half of the state, since 2011. He announced in July last year that he would run for governor to succeed Gov. Susana Martinez, also Republican, when her second term is up this year.
In 2016, Pearce’s asked New Mexico’s then-Secretary of State Brad Winter if a federal officeholder could transfer funds from a federal to a state campaign.
Winter, also Republican, told Pearce he could because a state law restricting contributions to a state election campaign was found unconstitutional in federal court.
In that case, New Mexicans for Bill Richardson v. Gonzales, Richardson sued the secretary of state for the right to use his federal campaign funds in his run for governor. The court ruled for Richardson on First Amendment grounds in 1996.
“This court’s decision in New Mexicans for Bill Richardson v. Gonzales was correct when it issued it and, given that First Amendment protections in the campaign-finance arena have only grown stronger since then, it is, if anything, the even clearer conclusion today,” Pearce’s lawsuit states.
But Pearce received a different opinion from Winter’s successor, Maggie Toulouse Oliver, in a letter from Deputy Secretary John Blair.
“Following a careful review of your letter, and continued discussion with the secretary of state and our senior leadership, the official position of this office continues to be that Congressman Steve Pearce may transfer $5,500 from his FECA account to a CRA account for a gubernatorial campaign both for the 2018 primary election and for the 2018 general election,” Blair wrote.
Blair added that New Mexicans for Bill Richardson no longer applied, as the Legislature in 2009 limited the amount that can be contributed to a campaign during an election cycle.
In response, Pearce sued Oliver, Attorney General Hector Balderas Jr., and Fifth Judicial District Attorney Dianna Luce, saying that the money should not be treated as one routine contribution, but as a state candidate rolling over his funds from one election cycle to the next.
U.S. District Judge Judith C. Herrera sided with Pearce in November last year. Last week Pearce and the state officials filed a proposed settlement that would allow people holding federal office to use old donations to run for state office, provided that the contributions were no bigger than allowed under New Mexico law, so long as the donations were reported to the Federal Election Commission.