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Watch for big money in politics

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By Jay Miller

Do you remember the days when we had a year off between election campaigns? Even better, we had a year off from negative political advertising.
No more. Announcements for next year’s gubernatorial campaign began even before the 2012 elections. Governor Susana Martinez never quit fundraising. She just had a big fundraiser in Taos and Palm Desert, Calif., that made the news. It isn’t unusual for first-term governors to raise money year-round for four years.
Attorney General Gary King announced for governor long before the 2012 elections. He had been asked to make a politically controversial investigation and decision so felt he had to reveal his conflict.
Soon after the 2012 general election Sen. Linda Lopez, of Albuquerque, and Clovis Mayor Gayla Brumfield announced their Democratic candidacies for governor. There likely will be several more announcements shortly.
In fact, some possible candidates, such as Howie Morales, of Silver City have announced they may announce for governor.
Most confounding of all is a negative Republican campaign that has already begun against Democratic Sen. Tim Keller, of Albuquerque. Keller has been mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate but has not announced.
The Albuquerque Journal reports that the Republican Party of New Mexico has prepared a web video calling Keller “an extreme left-wing liberal posing as a business-friendly moderate.”
I think that without doing any research, I am going to pick Keller in the Democratic gubernatorial primary even though he isn’t a candidate yet.
The GOP is spending quite a bit of money on some pretty fancy stuff already, and I’m guessing they know more about what is going on behind the scenes than any mere political commentator.
Within days of his announcement for state attorney general, current state treasurer Hector Balderas was targeted by the national Republican State Leadership Committee.
A website called “Breaking Balderas” was established carrying old articles from the Albuquerque Journal and KRQE about a 2008 charge against Balderas, which since has been dropped by the attorney general’s office and the district court.
The charges originally were made through an anonymous message on a phone line the treasurer’s office had established to handle charges against government agencies.
The charges were referred to the attorney general’s office. Reportedly there were some tensions between King and Balderas at the time. King long has had his eye on the governor’s office and there was speculation Balderas might want to run for governor in 2014 also.
King first broadened his request for information from the auditor’s office but eventually the matter cooled and King announced there was no evidence of any criminal action.
Balderas announced that he would not be seeking the governor’s office in 2014. Instead he will run for attorney general.
In 2012 Balderas ran for the Democratic nomination to the United States Senate. He lost to then Rep. Martin Heinrich in a race that became known for the gentlemanly conduct of both candidates.
But it doesn’t appear there will be much gentlemanly conduct in the 2014 races. With two Washington D.C.-based GOP groups already on the attack against Keller and Balderas, the game already is on.
The choice of “Breaking Balderas” for a website title suggests the hardball nature of the game that will be played. Breaking Bad is the title of a popular television show being filmed in Albuquerque. Its main subject is drug dealing.
Why are campaigns getting started so much earlier now? It’s because there is a lot more money in the system.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 allowing corporations to donate unlimited amounts of money to campaigns opened the floodgates.
Political spending was much more massive in 2012. Remember, when each Republican presidential candidate had his or her own billionaire to help finance their primary campaigns?
The guess is that corporations were acting a little cautiously last year and we are about to see another big increase in spending this year and next.