SANTA FE, N.M. — Politicians returning from Washington to run for political office in New Mexico are likely to find a clear legal path in the future to bring stockpiles of campaign dollars with them, under a new agreement signed by state campaign finance regulators and attorneys for Congressman Steve Pearce.
The legal guidance is linked to a proposed settlement that allows Pearce to use more than $900,000 he raised while in Congress in his campaign for governor as the lone Republican contender.
A federal district court judge released the funds in November to the Pearce gubernatorial campaign and is considering approval of a final settlement that preserves access to the money.
Linked to the settlement are guidelines aimed to prevent federal-to-state transfers from becoming a loophole around New Mexico campaign finance law, said Joey Keefe, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office said Tuesday.
The detailed conclusions of law were submitted last week by attorneys for Pearce, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and the state attorney general’s office.
Funds to be transferred from a federal campaign account must meet individual contribution limits and disclosures about the identity of donors that are at least as stringent as those under the New Mexico Campaign Reporting Act. The state law limits campaign contributions to $5,500 in a primary election and again in the general election.
Meanwhile, Pearce’s campaign for governor is seeking to recover $160,000 in legal costs it sustained in the dispute, campaign spokesman Kevin Sheridan said Wednesday.
Sheridan said it was appropriate for the state to pay those legal costs based a decision by the Secretary of State’s Office to block transfers from a federal election campaign account.
He says that decision ran contrary to 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.
“A federal judge has ruled that the secretary of state’s actions were obviously contrary to the previous ruling in the case of Bill Richardson and the U.S. Constitution,” Sheridan said.
The Secretary of State’s Office initially said that only $11,000 could be transferred by Pearce from his federal-election account, based on its reading of state law and the office’s prior correspondence with candidates.
Negotiations over legal fees are scheduled to take place once a final settlement is reached.
The Secretary of State’s Office had no immediate comment on legal costs. Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, is running for re-election in November.
Another member of Congress — Rep. Michelle Lujan-Grisham — is running for New Mexico governor in the Democratic primary. Her campaign says it stopped collecting money in a congressional account early on and gave away some funds.
Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, http://www.sfnewmexican.com