SANTA FE, N.M. — Republican Rep. Steve Pearce won access to a $1 million stockpile of campaign cash that he raised while in Congress to use in his run for New Mexico governor, under a federal court ruling issued Tuesday.
Albuquerque-based U.S. District Court Judge Judith Herrera blocked enforcement of limitations on campaign transfers from Pearce’s federal campaign account to a state one. The preliminary injunction gave Pearce access to the campaign funds while underlying issues are litigated.
The Secretary of State’s Office has said that only $11,000 can be transferred by Pearce, based on a New Mexico law that limits campaign contributions to $5,500 in a primary election and again in the general election.
Attorneys for Pearce contend that New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, has misinterpreted state law that limits campaign contributions, effectively violating Pearce’s constitutional rights to free speech under the First Amendment.
In her ruling, Herrera said it was likely Pearce will succeed during further litigation in showing that the $5,500 per-election limit on transfers is unconstitutional and obstructs free speech.
“Because the funds at issue are necessary for Rep. Pearce to increase the quality of his campaign speech for the 2018 gubernatorial race, the public interest in protecting the First Amendment is served by a preliminary injunction,” she wrote.
The ruling barred the Secretary of State’s Office from levying any special restrictions after federal campaign funds are transferred to a state account.
“Today’s ruling confirms what we have always maintained: the transfer of funds is fully compliant with the First Amendment, existing New Mexico law, a previous court ruling, and a previous opinion from the Secretary of State’s office,” Pearce campaign spokesman Greg Blair said in a statement Tuesday.
Pearce is the sole Republican candidate for governor, with a crowded field contending for the Democratic nomination that includes U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham of Albuquerque.
Two-term Republican Gov. Susana Martinez cannot run for re-election in 2018.
Secretary of State’s Office spokesman Joey Keefe said the agency was reviewing the court order and considering next steps. The agency maintains that current state law has no provisions for transferring funds greater than $5,500 from federal to state campaign accounts.
Pearce has highlighted inconsistencies in the state campaign reporting law, which allows candidates running for offices within the state to transfer money from one account to another despite the limits.