PAC money hits state race

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Election 2012: District 43 candidates decry attack ads by outside groups

By Arin McKenna

Candidates for the New Mexico House District 43 seat are facing a new challenge this year: attacks generated by Political Action Committees that operate outside the candidate’s campaign.


PACs are sending out mailers with information the candidates’ say distorts their positions. The PACs are also conducting “push polls” that use negative or misleading questions about a candidate under the guise of seeking an opinion.

“This is really the first time, I think, we’ve had to contend with this kind of atmosphere, this is not the way it was when I ran in 2010 at all,” candidate Stephanie Garcia Richard–D said.

The District 43 race is one of the most competitive races this year and one that could determine whether the House remains under Democratic control.

At least 10 PAC attacks have been issued on both sides of the campaign. Since PACs operate independently, neither Garcia Richard nor her opponent Jim Hall–R have a way to track the extent of what’s really been generated by these groups.

“You just don’t know, because they send them to targeted groups, and sometimes the candidates become aware of them and sometimes they don’t,” Hall said.

The mailers and other campaign tactics attempt to influence voters on a visceral level, with emotionally charged images and statements. A mailer from Reform New Mexico Now about Garcia Richard’s position on driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants has a menacing image of a cougar. An attack on Hall by Patriot Majority New Mexico asks, “How much can we overcrowd our classrooms?”

Both candidates have denounced the actions of these outside groups.

“These are out of district groups, folks that aren’t even from our area trying to insert themselves into our electoral process in Los Alamos. And I’m talking about both sides here. There have been some anti-Jim and anti-Stephanie mailers,” Garcia Richard said. “And in my view they have no business doing that, trying to sway voters.”

“I don’t countenance any of this crap,” Hall said. “Stephanie and I should be free to run our campaigns without a lot of outside interference. I basically push my own ideas and agenda. I expect her to do hers on her own. I think there’s plenty of stuff that differentiates me from her without outside PACs running negative ads.”

One of the mailers Hall finds most disturbing is one put out by the Democratic Party of New Mexico, titled “Jim Hall and his friends are lying.”

The mailer attacks Hall for a press release he put out which stated that state senators Carlos Cisneros and Richard Martinez supported him. Hall later issued a clarification to the effect that the senators have been supportive of him but have not endorsed him.

The mailer also claims that Hall is behind the RNMN mailer on driver’s licenses, although Hall has no connection to the PAC.

The mailer then goes on to say, “Lie #3: coming to your mailbox soon.”

Hall’s phone number is on the mailer with instructions to call him and tell him to “apologize for his lies about Stephanie Garcia Richard.”

“I’ve had a couple of nearly hysterical calls, people basically screaming at me, you’ve got to quit lying about Stephanie,” Hall said.

Garcia Richard was also disturbed by that mailer.

“I don’t control what comes out of the party. That had nothing to do with my campaign,” Garcia Richard said. “ I feel the same way about that as I do about the rest of them.”

The candidates are hard pressed to correct the record on the distortions coming out of what Garcia Richard calls a “smear campaign.”

The mailers against Garcia Richard have all come from RNMN.

The driver’s license mailer distorts a stance Garcia Richard had on the issue in 2010 and also takes a more recent statement out of context to use against her.

Garcia Richard supported issuing drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants during her 2010 campaign. The mailer states that her reason for supporting the licenses was to cut down on uninsured motorist rates and that the argument has been “proven false.”

Garcia Richard acknowledges new information has caused her to change her position on the law. She also told the Los Alamos Monitor that her main reason for supporting the law originally was not the insurance issue, but concerns by public safety officials about having some way to track undocumented immigrants.

Garcia Richard issued her most recent view on this issue in response to a questionnaire from the Albuquerque Journal. In regards to repealing the law, she wrote, “Support. The current law isn’t working as it was intended which is why we need comprehensive changes to how driver’s licenses are being issued in our state.”

The mailer claims that Garcia Richard “refuses to say where she stands,” pulls the phrase “we need comprensive changes to how driver’s licenses are being issued” out of context and accuses her of “dancing around the issue.” The mailer with the jaguar photo is titled “Stephanie Garcia Richard is playing cat and mouse with the voters.” Another is titled “ Stephanie Garcia Richard is doing the Driver’s License Two-step.”

The mailers Garcia Richard finds more disturbing are two claiming she wants to “raise income taxes in New Mexico by $350 million — the biggest tax increase in state history.” The mailers also claim Garcia Richard has advocated for raising taxes on grocery stores, and the this would “drive up food prices.”

“The problem with all these tax mailers is there’s no citation of any statement, so it’s hard to say what they are referring to “ Garcia Richard said.

Garcia Richard surmises that the attack about taxes on grocery stores relates to her support of SB 9, which would close a loophole that allows national chain stores to expense profits to other subsidiaries and avoid paying corporate tax. The bill passed both the House and the Senate in the last legislative session but was vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez.
Garcia Richard is in the dark about the personal income tax claim.

“That could be referring to a tax cut in ‘03 that people are talking about repealing,” Garcia Richard said. “In this election cycle, I have not made a stand on that at all.”

The push polling is making almost identical claims about Garcia Richard’s positions. Those conducting the poll are not identifying who is paying for it, so Garcia Richard is not certain that RNMN is behind it.

Hall has also had to conjecture about what the attacks on him are based on. An ad and a mailer by PMNM concerning overcrowded classrooms state that Hall voted against more teachers and instructional materials in classrooms.

In a statement to the Los Alamos Monitor, Hall wrote, “After a lot of research, the ad apparently refers to my “yes” vote on Senate Bill 209, which temporarily extends school district flexibility in prioritizing their resources. The measure continued the Public Education Department’s ability to grant waivers to parts of the Public School Code for one additional year. Waivers are given in order for districts to maintain financial solvency.”

Hall is still researching a mailer by Verde Voters that claims he supports allowing corporations and billionaires to spend unlimited money in elections without disclosure. Hall plans to issue a statement to the Los Alamos Monitor on this issue.

Hall has also received reports of push polls conducted against him.

Both candidates urge voters to educate themselves by learning about the candidates’ views first hand. Garcia Richard’s website is stephanieforhouse.com and Hall’s is jimhallnm43.com. The candidates also suggest paying attention to who is financing the attacks.

“I think absolutely people have to be educated about it and they have to be aware of where it comes from,” Hall said. “One of the reasons for this bitter partisan divide is the kind of thing that we’re seeing now. I work real hard to work across the line, to work with whomever I need to work with. But I must confess that after being called a liar, it doesn’t encourage that.”

Garcia Richard’s response was more succinct. “I would tell them to knock it off.”

The future

As I look at both candidates,and set aside all the PAC stuff, I think, which one can go onto being the best advocate for all of Los Alamos, not just the retirees? Who can grow into a powerful chairperson and do great things for our schools and environment, and not be beholden to Big Oil interests? Which one will bring a new voice to the legislature, a young working woman, of which type we have so few? Which one will stand up for reasonable regulations that will protect the air and water of NM? Which one will look out for the students, and those who need improved health care? Who will watch out for the small local businesses, and refuse to bow to the pressure of Corporation lobbyists? Hint - her initials are SGR.