Gloves Come Off in New Mexico Campaign Funding Fight

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (CN) – Republican Congressman Steve Pearce sued New Mexico’s secretary of state Thursday to let him transfer about $1 million from his congressional campaign to fund his bid for governor.

Pearce filed suit against Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, in federal court after her office told him last week that New Mexico law limited him to only $5,500 from his federal campaign war chest to help fund his run for governor. The lawsuit also names Attorney General Hector Balderas Jr. and Fifth Judicial District Attorney Dianna Luce as defendants.

The congressman announced last week that he would run for governor to succeed Gov. Susana Martinez, also a Republican, when her second term is up in 2018.

In 2016, Pearce’s attorney wrote to Toulouse Oliver’s predecessor, Brad Winter, asking if a federal officeholder could transfer funds from a federal to a state campaign.

Winter, a Republican, told Pearce he could because a state law restricting contributions being used in 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 the state and the attorney general for the right to use his federal campaign funds in his run for governor. The judge found 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,” the lawsuit claims.

But when the Pearce campaign reached out to Toulouse Oliver, they were given a different answer in a letter from Deputy Secretary John Blair, according to the lawsuit

“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.

In the letter, Blair also said that New Mexicans for Bill Richardson no longer applied since the New Mexico Legislature adopted limitations in 2009 on the amount that can be contributed to a campaign during an election cycle.

“We are only left to conclude that the secretary of state is bending the rules to benefit candidates from her own party,” Pearce’s campaign said in a statement.

Pearce claims Toulouse Oliver may have changed her position on the matter after having an “informal communication” with Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat running for Gonzales’ seat.

“It is unfortunate that Congressman Pearce has cherry-picked a single 21-year-old legal decision as definitive, but is ignoring the significant changes to New Mexico law since that time,” Blair said in a statement. “For Congressman Pearce’s team to now make any claims of partisanship is self-serving, disingenuous and flat out wrong.”

Pearce seeks an injunction to stop Toulouse Oliver from imposing the campaign-funding restrictions.

He is represented by Matthew Hoyt of Peifer, Hanson & Mullins.

 

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