New Mexico congressman sues to access campaign cash
By MORGAN LEE
Jul. 20, 2017
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Republican Congressman Steve Pearce sued New Mexico's lead elections regulator on Thursday to seek access to a $1 million campaign war chest as he runs for governor in 2018.
The New Mexico Secretary of State's Office informed the Pearce campaign this week that only $11,000 could be transferred from his federal election campaign account to a state campaign account.
The office of Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver cited a state law that limits campaign contributions to $5,500 in a primary election and again in the general election. The decision acknowledges that there are no specific state provisions regarding "transfers" from a federal to state campaigns — instead adhering to individual contribution limits.
Pearce said the decision by Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat elected in November, is politically motivated. The challenge also is based on a 1996 federal court decision that allowed Bill Richardson to funnel federal campaign funds to New Mexico as he prepared to run for governor after leaving Congress.
Bill Canfield, an attorney for Pearce, called the decision "ludicrous" because money raised by under the federal committee People for Pearce followed federal restrictions on individual contributions of $2,700 that are below current state limits.
Deputy Secretary of State John Blair said that his agency's interpretation of campaign finance restrictions was provided by phone more than six months ago to Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in a crowded field of primary candidates.
"For Congressman Pearce's team to now make any claims of partisanship is self-serving, disingenuous and flat out wrong," Blair said.
Canfield said it has been clear for a long time that Pearce had more campaign money to lose by restricting transfers.
The outcome of the conflict could hinge on correspondence last year between Canfield and the Secretary of State's Office — then under the leadership of Republican Brad Winter.
Pearce and the current secretary of state disagree about the meaning of those written exchanges, which also involved advice from a prominent Republican contract attorney.
Pearce hopes to succeed second-term Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who by law cannot seek re-election in 2018.
He is not seeking re-election to the congressional district that covers the southern half of New Mexico. It's one of only a handful of congressional districts along the Mexico border not held by a Democrat.