SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce’s campaign for governor has quickly raised $1 million as he battles in court for access to a separate chest of money he raised while serving in Congress.
Pearce said in a news release Thursday that his campaign has received money from at least 930 contributors in less than three months. The campaign has at least $900,000 in cash on hand ahead of the 2018 primary and general elections.
At the same time, the seven-term congressman and his approach to public land issues have come under pointed criticism in an advertising blitz from an alliance of five nonprofit advocacy groups. Pearce campaign spokesman Greg Blair dismissed the criticism as the work of liberal-leaning special interest organizations with a radical agenda.
Two-term Republican Gov. Susana Martinez cannot run for re-election in 2018, and Pearce so far is the only contender for the GOP nomination. Candidates for the Democratic nomination include U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, state Sen. Joseph Cervantes and former media industry executive Jeff Apodoca.
The Pearce campaign did not made public its list of contributors and other detailed financial information due Oct. 9 at the secretary of state’s office, and the Democratic candidates haven’t turned their information in yet, either. The Pearce campaign said most of its contributions came from within the state.
Pearce is seeking a federal court injunction to tap into $1 million in political contributions that he collected while in Congress to use in his gubernatorial run. The secretary of state’s office said only $11,000 of that can be transferred, based on a New Mexico law that limits direct campaign contributions to $5,500 in a primary election and again in the general election.
Meanwhile, the OLE Education Foundation — an affiliate of the Organizers in the Land of Enchantment, a group associated with liberal political causes — announced this week that it would run full-page newspaper ads statewide aimed at holding Pearce accountable for his record in Congress regarding public lands.
Its ads were part of the “Step Up Steve” project, backed by four additional nonprofits active in environmental or liberal causes, that accuses Pearce of trying to shrink the state’s national monuments and remove protections against development from public land.
OLE Education Foundation spokeswoman Nayomi Valdez said its ads are purely an educational effort based on Pearce’s work in Congress. OLE affiliates have been active on recent workplace and educational issues, advocating unsuccessfully for paid sick leave requirements in Albuquerque and for a tax on sugary beverages in Santa Fe to fund early childhood education.
Pearce has urged the U.S. Interior Department to reduce the size of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument outside Las Cruces as part of a nationwide review of monument designations, citing constituents’ concerns about economic impacts, security and access.
The New Mexico Wildlife Federation, which represents licensed hunters and anglers, has joined the “Step Up Steve” coalition. The federation launched its own radio ad in late September accusing Pearce and Gov. Martinez of “failing to protect our public lands.”
Its deputy director, Todd Leahy, said the ads highlight the group’s view that Pearce does not recognize the economic importance of conserving public lands for recreation. Pearce has said his suggestion for shrinking the Organ Mountains monument would preserve traditional business enterprises on public lands without hurting the local economy or environment.