Democratic gubernatorial challenger Gary King has yet to respond to a shelling of recent ads from incumbent Republican Susana Martinez.
If this gubernatorial election has showed anything, it's the ability of big money to drive campaign narratives. The latest campaign finance reports show Martinez with $3.8 million in the bank, a 24-1 cash advantage over King's $157,730. (Much of that came from King's own pockets).
Arguably, King hasn't been helping his own narrative. Monday, he announced the departure of his third campaign manager for this election season. The Santa Fe New Mexican reports
that Keith Breitbach cites family and "philosophical differences" with his boss for the exit. That's following reports that King is returning contributions made from companies tied with registered sex-offender Jeffrey Epstein—the same week when a video leaked showing King quoting Hispanic labor activist Dolores Huerta. “[Huerta] said you can’t go out there and just vote for somebody for governor because they have a Latino surname,” King tells a crowd. “She said you have to look at them and find out if they have a Latino heart. And we know that Susana Martinez does not have a Latino heart.”
The Weekly Standard
released a portion of the video without the reference to Huerta's name. King stood by his comments. But the damage was done. Big money doesn't only just buy campaign ads. It also finances a team of opposition researchers to dig up the dirt—in this case an out-of-context video snippet leaked to a friendly reporter—to drive a particular campaign narrative. It could be working, too: An Albuquerque Journal poll
released Sunday shows Martinez with an 18-point lead over King.
But for now we'll focus on the television ads. Television is the preferred medium for campaigns to communicate a narrative to voters. A TV commercial reaches a wide audience. It doesn't take active engagement—like reading a newspaper article—to view. And it's easy to digest.
Here's a snippet of all the free speech money can buy.
First, SFR would like to take credit for this recent ad, which lambasts King for publicizing emails leaked from the campaign accounts of Martinez and her staffers. King didn't exactly "publicize" the emails in the traditional sense of the word. We did, in a 2012 article The Year in Closed Government
, an investigation into the private email network maintained by the governor and her close advisers. King's office had been investigating the emails. He furnished them to SFR after we made a request for the emails under the Inspection of Public Records Act.
"King...released the emails to SFR without redacting anything, even purchases linked to Martinez’ account of Nickelback, Lifehouse and Kenny Chesney songs," we reported, along with receipts for "Spanx undergarments."
"King publicized the stolen emails," an ominous female voice says in the ad. "Receipts for the governor's underwear order."
The ad correctly points out that the FBI blasted King for releasing the emails during its investigation into their release by Jamie Estrada
, Martinez' 2010 campaign manager who this summer pleaded guilty of two federal felonies in the case: unlawful interception of a campaign email and lying to the FBI about it.
King defends releasing the emails in response to our records request in this interview
, saying, "Frankly they weren't secret documents by any circumstances because they were already in the hands of somebody who was a member of the public."
You're welcome, governor. But we'll give her team credit for its ability to pick out of our 4,500-word investigation—into deal-making within the confines of a gubernatorial shadow email network—one paragraph dealing with gubernatorial undergarments. Brilliant.
The Washington Approach
"Politicians in Washington just don't get it," says the gubernatorial candidate whose $3.8 million warchest includes a whole lot of Washington money. "Here in New Mexico, we're doing things differently." Text of the ad cites a "bipartisan jobs package" passed by the Democratic legislature and signed into law by Martinez. As Steve Terrell at The Santa Fe New Mexican points out
, the ad also refers to King's votes as a freshman lawmaker in 1987 to hike the state gas tax by three cents and to suspend for two years tax rebates on food and medicine. The bills, Terrell reports, passed the legislature with bipartisan support. Republican Gov. Garrey Carruthers signed them into law. No mention of that bipartisanship.
The Martinez campaign is really hammering away at those 1987 votes [see above]. This time it throws in the assertion that King voted for the "largest tax increase in state history." The New Mexican has the context behind that assertion. (It wasn't actually the largest tax increase in state history.) In any event, the "better choice" is clearly Martinez, according to the ad, who "inherited the largest deficit in state history"—the state constitution doesn't allow the state to operate on "deficits," but this is more of a semantics debate than anything. She emerged from the budgetary woes, the ad goes, and sold the state's "luxury jet"—true, but the move was more symbolic than having any sort of budgetary impact. Martinez' also "increased teacher pay." Democratic lawmakers surely had a lot to do with that effort, but there's no mention of the bipartisanship waxed upon by the previous ad. The governor initially proposed an increase in teacher pay before the 2014 legislative session, and ultimately signed into law a package that hiked pay for all teachers by 3 percent, along with increasing the minimum teacher pay by $2,000. But she rejected hiking pay for more experienced teachers.
RGA: Pay to Play
In addition to $3.8 million in her campaign bank account, Martinez also boasts support from the Republican Governor's Association, which reported raising $24.1 million from April to July of 2014.
Since the US Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, groups like the RGA can raise an spend unlimited amounts of cash in elections. The caveat is that they can't directly coordinate the spending of that cash in elections with candidates.
IRS filings show that the RGA has been paying the firm of Martinez' top political advisor Jay McCleskey tens of thousands of dollars over the past year. He hasn't commented on the expenditures, but RGA disclosures say the group is paying him for "consulting" in Arizona and Nevada.
The ad hits King for engaging in "pay-to-play" governing by taking contributions from attorneys who had contracts with his office. We reported some of these donations in an October 2013 article
Yet there's a particular irony in the RGA releasing an ad hammering Martinez' opponent for "pay-to-play" governing. In February, an SFR investigation reported
on emails that showed Martinez' 2010 campaign apparently attempted to funnel $25,000 in contributions to Martinez from a Louisiana developer through the RGA, a charge the campaign now denies. Following the contributions, the Martinez administration awarded the developer's company, The Downs at Albuquerque Racetrack and Casino, a 25-year extension to lease state land.
This is perhaps the most hard-hitting ad that's come out of the faltering King campaign. The first assertion that Martinez "lied" is a response to a previous Martinez ad that pointed out numerous gender discrimination lawsuits filed against King in his capacity as the state's attorney general. One of the four lawsuits brought by female employees was rejected by a federal judge, while King's office settled claims with three of the other employees. King says Martinez will "do anything" to avoid talking about all the various rankings at which New Mexico has placed last. That includes job creation—referring to federal data that showed New Mexico was last in job growth from Jan. 2011 to Nov. 2013, with 0.9 percent—and "caring for children"—referring to an Annie E. Casey Foundation's Kids Count Data Book
, where New Mexico ranked 49th
in child well-being. Martinez did make a list released by the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which calls Martinez one of the nation's "worst
" governors. It's a list, Republicans will point out, that includes mostly Republicans. And while it's true that Martinez vetoed a minimum-wage hike, she was also on record supporting a smaller increase than what Democratic lawmakers sent to her desk.
Here we have King attacking Martinez for attacking King. He hits on yet another "worst" list
and the state's job woes again. He also alleges Martinez "gives no-bid, sweetheart deals to her friends," but, in this instance, that's more of a reference to the friends of Martinez-appointee Jon Barela and a whistleblower lawsuit
filed against him and the state's Economic Development, which he leads. King will "demand" that women are paid the same as men, promises the ad. The Martinez camp had an immediate response to that assertion: "What King fails to mention is that the liberal American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) praised Governor Martinez 'for her support of New Mexico’s Equal Pay for Women Act and for developing measures to narrow the gender wage gap.'”
In this ad, King's hoping voters will remember his parents, former Gov. Bruce King and First Lady Alice King, fondly. It's the old "Elect-me-like-you-elected-my-dad" card Humorously, King also cites a New Mexico Watchdog article
detailing that, while New Mexico is at the bottom in education results, it's at the middle of the road in education spending—point being that more taxpayer money pumped into education doesn't necessarily produce commensurate educational outcomes. What's humorous here is that King uses the article to argue he'll "reverse Martinez cuts to education."
Yet there's not much time for context in a 30-second TV spot, is there? Just sit back and let the money talk.