Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Pearce's dollars for 2018 need judge's ruling

 

August 30, 2017



We thought a federal court settled it in 1996. Or that the N.M. Secretary of State’s Office did last year. So why is it taking so long to get an answer in 2017?

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican, has filed a federal lawsuit against New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, over whether Pearce can transfer all of his roughly $1 million federal war chest to his campaign for New Mexico governor.

Toulouse Oliver’s office has imposed state campaign contribution limits — $5,500 per contributor for both primary and general election cycles — on Pearce’s federal campaign stash.

A Pearce aide last week accused Toulouse Oliver of intentionally “stalling” and using “her position to stack the deck in favor of her own party’s presumptive nominee” after she filed a request for 60 additional days to respond to Pearce’s lawsuit.

(Pearce is the only Republican running for governor at the moment, but the front runner in a four-candidate Democratic field is U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham — who as of April had raised about $893,000 specifically for her run for governor.)

Toulouse Oliver’s office claims it’s treating all candidates the same, and a spokesman says more time is needed because Pearce’s lawsuit “raises multiple complex legal and constitutional questions that could have long-term effects on how campaigns are financed in New Mexico.”

Sure.

Except a 1996 court decision — which both sides cite — gave former U.S. Rep. Bill Richardson the green light to use federal campaign funds in a run for governor. The federal judge in that case ruled a state prohibition on transferring federal funds to a state campaign violated the First Amendment on the basis election spending is protected speech.

The Pearce camp is relying on that decision to bolster its position he has a constitutional right to use the federal campaign money, and it argues state officials are allowed to make transfers between races in state campaigns. It also points out his federal war chest has already been subject to strict federal campaign contribution limits.

However, Toulouse Oliver’s office contends the 1996 decision came before the state subsequently imposed campaign limits, which it claims would now apply to moving the federal campaign funds into a state fund. And it cites a legal analysis prepared last year when Republican Brad Winter was secretary of state that came up with the same interpretation.

The contending positions appear to be clear, and delaying is unlikely to change either side’s position. The issue needs to be settled, not just for this race, but for similar situations going forward as well as to clarify the rules for municipal candidates who want to run for state offices.

With battle lines drawn, it’s time to once again let a federal judge make the call — and sooner rather than later.

— Albuquerque Journal

 

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