On April 2, Gov. Susana Martinez received a $2,500 contribution from a little-known company called Double V Production, LLC. Based in Hobbs, the company was registered with New Mexico's Public Regulation Commission by Scotty Holloman, an attorney in the dusty, southern oil city that borders Texas. Though it's properly registered with the state, Hobbs city and Lea County officials maintain they have no record of Double V Production's existence.
Double V's contribution was one of several over the last two years. Holloman says the company is run by the Veteto family, which controls a diversity of interests in Hobbs. Altogether, Mark Veteto and companies associated with his family have donated at least $82,000 to Martinez and the independent political action committees that support her—a significant chunk of money, and an example of how one individual can spread out donations through separate businesses and bank accounts. Veteto's is a particularly interesting case: He's a plaintiff in a lawsuit aimed at dismantling New Mexico's campaign contribution limits.
Double V Production and another company have given tens of thousands of dollars to other Republican candidates. (SFR requested an interview with Veteto through Holloman; calls to Veteto-associated businesses and Mark Veteto's home number were not returned.)
Double V Production itself has plowed $11,500 into Martinez' campaign coffers. Me-Tex Oil & Gas, Inc., though, is the most generous Veteto-associated venture, having given at least $70,500 to Martinez and Susana PAC, according to campaign finance reports.
Combined, Veteto-associated businesses have given $82,000 to Martinez over two years, helping her raise about $7.4 million. The majority of contributions by businesses associated with Veteto were made before campaign contribution limits took effect after the 2010 elections.
What companies like Double V Production do outside of making political contributions, however, is another question altogether.
If Double V Production shares a tax identification and and address with another company, it might not need a business license in Hobbs, says Sandra Boltshauser, a city clerk records specialist. After SFR's inquiries into the company last week, the city sent an inspector to the address Double V lists with the PRC. The inspector, Bolthauser says, found no evidence of Double V Production, though another company, PMR Real Estate, had just moved into address and is in the process of obtaining a business license.
"We have no information that this is an actual business," she says, referring to Double V Production. "The information that was on the [PRC] website was not correct."
Holloman tells SFR that Double V Production was set up as "part of estate planning we did for the [Veteto] family some time ago," and that it owns "publicly traded securities."
"This is a legitimate business…It's not just set up to make political contributions," he says.
PMR, LLC also donated $5,000 to Martinez, according to campaign finance reports; Veteto Oil Company, Inc. has given $5,000.
Often, company officials dip into their personal pocketbooks for contributions. And they sometimes don't list an employer, which makes it more difficult for the public to know whether owners or employees are making campaign contributions. Mark Veteto has personally donated $10,000 to Martinez since 2010, according to campaign finance reports.
But he'd like to be able to donate more than state contribution limits allow. Veteto is a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by the Republican Party of New Mexico, with the help of James Bopp, Jr.—a legal adviser on the landmark Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case.
In January, US District Court Judge William Johnson issued a preliminary injunction barring the enforcement of New Mexico's limits on contributions to groups that spend money independently of candidates. Bobbi Shearer, director of elections at the New Mexico Secretary of State, confirms the injunction is still in place. That means that independent political action committees—such as Susana PAC—can receive unlimited donations. Groups spending money in coordination with candidates, however, can only receive a maximum of $5,000 per donor, per election.
Jim Harrington, state chairman of Common Cause New Mexico and an attorney who has argued before the US Supreme Court, explains that it's problematic for New Mexico to enact laws restricting companies from donating through subsidiaries, branches or associated businesses because the courts might view that as chilling on free speech.
"Nobody has a good solution," Harrington says.
According to an opinion by Assistant Attorney General Phillip Baca, an individual and a bona fide corporation are separate entities, even if the individual controls the corporation. That means Veteto can contribute as much as he wants through his various businesses, so long as each business' contributions are within legal limits. Individuals, however, are prohibited from transferring funds to corporations they control for the sole purpose of making a political donation.
In any case, Veteto, like other big donors, has come through for Martinez when the stakes were high. On Nov. 1, the day before the 2010 gubernatorial election, Veteto and two companies associated with his family donated $18,000 to Martinez, according to campaign finance reports.
On Nov. 9, just after Martinez was elected governor, her campaign announced the appointment of Veteto to her energy and environment search committee. Individuals on the committee were charged with working with Heather Wilson, a Republican now vying for a US Senate seat, to "identify cabinet officials and other leaders who will reflect the governor-elect's commitment to position New Mexico as a leader in developing its energy supplies, while promoting a clean and healthy environment."
Campaign Contribution Limits in NM
Individuals to Candidate : $5,000/statewide candidate $2,300/non-statewide candidate
State Party to Candidate: $5,000/election
Political Action Committee: to Candidate: $5,000/election
Corporations to Candidate: Same as individual
Unions to Candidate: Same as individual