SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — With an eye on next year's legislative elections, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has formed a political action committee to support candidates backing her agenda.
The governor established Susana-PAC in late February, and her gubernatorial campaign committee has provided seed money for its operations with a $5,000 contribution.
Danny Diaz, a political spokesman for Martinez, said the governor planned to back candidates who "pro-growth economic policies that keep taxes low and reduce regulations, reform the education system to increase accountability and results in the classroom, and protect New Mexicans with common sense policies like ending the practice of giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants."
All 112 seats in the Democratic-controlled Legislature are up for election next year.
Martinez proved to be a formidable fundraiser during last year's governor's race. She could boost GOP chances for making gains in the Legislature by giving money to candidates and making independent expenditures such as advertising and mailings, which could target Democrats or urge voters to back Republicans.
The governor's PAC is similar to the political committees affiliated with some legislative leaders, including House Speaker Ben Lujan, who operate separate committees for their re-election and the broader political activities related to their leadership roles.
With a PAC, Martinez will have flexibility to spend and raise money to influence legislative races next year without draining her re-election fund, which will be needed in 2014 and had a cash balance of nearly $327,000 earlier this month.
State law has changed since last year's election.
There are currently caps on campaign contributions. Individuals and businesses are restricted to giving $5,000 per election — a combined $10,000 for a primary and general election — to a PAC or a statewide candidate, such as the governor, and $2,300 to legislative and other non-statewide candidates.
New Mexico previously allowed statewide and legislative candidates and political committees to accept contributions of any amount.
Political committees, like the one formed by the governor, can contribute $5,000 per election to a candidate for the Legislature.
Martinez demonstrated during the 60-day legislative session that she's willing to play political hardball and appeal directly to voters to advance her agenda. She upset Democrats by spending money from her gubernatorial campaign committee for radio ads that sought to build pressure on legislators to end the state's practice of issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.
The governor's proposal passed the House, but failed in the Senate.
An immigrant rights group and Common Cause of New Mexico have questioned whether the governor violated state law restricting how campaign money can be spent. The Martinez campaign maintained it acted properly and the flap over the radio ads wasn't the reason for forming Susana-PAC, according to Diaz.
Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran has concluded the governor's campaign expenditures during the legislative session were permissible, but Democratic Attorney General Gary King has said the ads appeared to be lobbying, rather than campaign, expenses.
The governor's PAC reported no expenditures in a campaign finance disclosure filed last week with the secretary of state's office and had a cash balance of $5,000. The only contribution came from the gubernatorial re-election committee.Tags: