Lujan Grisham’s campaign received thousands linked to racino bids
Individuals and companies with ties to a group seeking state approval to build a horse-racing track and slot machine casino in Clovis donated more than $25,000 to newly elected Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s campaign.
A company linked to another group that wants to put a track and casino in Clovis also made a donation of more than $5,000 late in the campaign to Lujan Grisham, who easily won the gubernatorial election in November and took office Tuesday morning.
When she was sworn in as the state’s chief executive, Lujan Grisham took control of the New Mexico Racing Commission, which has voted to issue a new track license but hasn’t decided which of five competing companies will get it.
The governor has the option of allowing the Racing Commission to issue the lucrative license or block it from doing so through appointment of new commissioners.
“The governor wants to comprehensively evaluate the situation before setting a course,” Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said Wednesday. He added the Racing Commission’s process of issuing the license has been “a bit of a muddled process.”
Campaign ties between the governor and at least three of the groups seeking the license mean a commission decision selecting the winning group could be viewed as politically tainted. Former Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, who was defeated by Lujan Grisham, also received campaign donations tied to some of the applicants for the license.
The five Racing Commission members appointed by former Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, remained in place Wednesday. Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, can replace any or all of them at any time.
Three groups have made separate proposals to build a track and casino, or so-called racino, in the Clovis area. There also are proposals for racinos in Tucumcari and Lordsburg.
The Racing Commission last week voted for a third time to postpone a vote on the winning group for the license.
The state Attorney General’s Office had threatened to withdraw as legal counsel on the licensing process if the Racing Commission didn’t put off picking a winner until a related court petition had been resolved.
Hidalgo Downs, the company that wants to build a racino in Lordsburg, filed the petition, saying the commission shouldn’t vote until it has a new study conducted on the feasibility of the new facility. A feasibility study conducted for the commission in the fall was unfavorable to Hidalgo Downs.
No hearing has been set on the petition, filed in state District Court in Albuquerque.
One of the groups seeking the new track license is Clovis Racetrack and Casino. It is headed by Shaun Hubbard, grandson of R.D. Hubbard, a former owner of racinos at Ruidoso Downs and Hobbs.
Shaun Hubbard and Joan Hubbard, the wife of R.D. Hubbard, each donated $5,000 on the same day in August to the campaign of Lujan Grisham, according to the state’s database of political donations. Also making a $5,000 contribution that day was Lee Lewis of Lubbock, Texas, who is another principal in Clovis Racetrack and Casino.
Two Hobbs companies of businessman Johnny Cope, also a principal in the Hubbard group, made donations to Lujan Grisham. Resource Protection gave $5,500 in May and Cope Investments another $5,000 in October, according to the state database.
Through his stables in Roswell, Ray Willis, who chairs the Racing Commission, is a part owner with Cope, R.D. Hubbard and a Colorado businessman of racehorses, according to a national database of racehorse ownership. Willis also has owned horses with Shaun Hubbard.
Willis has denied any conflict between his horse ownership and his role overseeing the issuance of the new track license.
Another company seeking to build a racino in the Clovis area is L&M Entertainment. It is a joint venture of Laguna Development, which is owned by Laguna Pueblo, and Miller Cos. of Hinsdale, Ill., which is headed by gaming industry executive Rob Miller.
Gaming Advisors, a company with the same address as Miller Cos., made a $5,500 donation to Lujan Grisham’s campaign a few days before the general election in November, according to the state’s database of political contributions.
Laguna Development and Laguna Pueblo contributed a total of $7,500 to the governor’s campaign in 2017 and 2018, the database shows.
The third company seeking to build a racino in the Clovis area is Full House Resorts, a small Las Vegas, Nev., casino company.
Raymond Sanchez, a former Democratic speaker of the state House of Representatives who has represented Full House before the Racing Commission, made a $1,000 political donation to Lujan Grisham in September, according to the state database.
The New Mexican didn’t identify any campaign contributions to Lujan Grisham from the groups seeking to build in Lordsburg and Tucumcari.
Roswell car dealer Tom Krumland, who is a principal in Coronado Partners, the Tucumcari group, donated $11,000 to the gubernatorial campaign of Pearce. Krumland’s wife also gave $11,000, the state database shows.
Laguna Development contributed $4,000 in 2017 and 2018 to Pearce’s campaign.