Kneel before (the political ads of) your dark money overlords

New Mexico's eyes, ears and brains will be bombarded with ads from outside spending groups

"Nobody knew where Aleppo was."

SFR doesn't spend a whole lot of time fact-checking political advertisements, because they're generally terrible places to get quality information about an election.

Allow us a moment to analyze that geographical whopper in Elect Liberty PAC's latest internet offering supporting Gary Johnson: It's wild hyperbole and provably false (see this SFR cover story on Syrian refugees in New Mexico).

Once again, a bunch of people from Utah gather in a Salt Lake City outdoor mall to say how "Gary Johnson is us." Unless they're talking about humans, or US citizens—or unless they're New Mexicans who flew to Utah to make a political ad—they're stretching the truth a little.

Watch for yourself:

In Elect Liberty's defense, this line is true: "At least he's cool. He's a guy you could walk up to and say, 'Hey Gary.'"

Gary Johnson is kind of cool and reliably pleasant to talk to.

Of course, you could walk up to a lot of people and say "Hey Gary." They don't even have to be named Gary. Or be guys.

Elect Liberty is running ads, though, and spending cash to influence your vote. While only a handful of people have seen the group's work on YouTube, the ragtag band of Johnson supporters has spent $54,456 producing internet ads and otherwise supporting the Libertarian candidate for Martin Heinrich's US Senate seat.

That's small potatoes compared to the millions of dollars of outside political spending dumping into New Mexico. Because of a few recent court decisions and the IRS code, some of these groups can raise and spend unlimited amounts to "educate" the public or otherwise try to influence an election. They earned the moniker "dark money groups" because they don't have to disclose who's paying to win your vote. Whether the public knows who's behind the groups or not, they spend big.

Take the Protect Freedom PAC (political action committee). A conservative group that spends primarily for Republicans and against Democrats, the super PAC has bypassed Republican Senate candidate Mick Rich completely and spent more touting Gary Johnson than it has for any other candidate this election cycle. Johnson is the only Libertarian the group is backing with its nearly $1.2 million in expenditures across federal races in five states.

Democrat Heinrich has also benefitted from super PAC spending, though not nearly as much as the late-to-the-race Johnson. The Federation of American Hospitals has spent $19,500 supporting the incumbent's re-election bid.

As New Mexico's political races have come into shape, various outside spending groups have adjusted their strategy. The 2nd Congressional District is a perfect example, where both dark money groups and traditional political committees have shelled out more than $3.5 million.

Both parties' congressional campaign committees have spent big going negative in the race to replace Steve Pearce in the traditionally Republican seat in Southern New Mexico. Democrats have it as one of their top 20 races, and have spent more than $1 million going negative on Republican Yvette Herrell. Their candidate Xochitl Torres Small hasn't escaped the harsh glare of the red spotlight, as Republicans have spent nearly $1 million in the campaign, all of it on negative advertising.

The liberal Super PAC Women Vote! has pumped $18 million into races across the country, including almost $300,000 opposing Herrell (and nearly $200,000 opposing Democrat Damon Martinez' failed bid for the 1st Congressional District seat). AFT Solidarity, a teachers' union group, has poured $265,000 into attack ads going after Herrell.

On the conservative side, Our Values PAC, funded by Roswell oilman Mark Murphy and others, has doled out more than $200,000 on ads supporting Herrell.

Most of the $2 million in outside spending in the race for Albuquerque's congressional seat came in the hotly contested Democratic primary election. Democrat Deb Haaland benefitted then from $214,000 in spending by a group called 7Gen Leaders, which implies a priority on Native issues and appears to have been formed solely to focus on Haaland's race.

In statewide races, such as the one for governor, outside spending is harder to track. It relies on reports from the groups themselves and from publicly filed spending disclosures at media outlets.

The Republican Governors Association just dropped thousands on a new ad going after Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham. Late this summer, a Democratic group spent $344,000 on ads targeting Steve Pearce. Earlier this month, Save the Children Action Network said it would pay more than $400,000 to run ads supporting Lujan Grisham.

Most outside spending groups can't coordinate with the candidates they support, but that doesn't mean strategy is out the window. Just last week, New Mexico In Depth reported on a political action committee funded by noted Republican Harvey Yates. The group, New Mexico Turn Around, has produced an internet ad in which Hispanic activists bemoan the influence of progressives in the Democratic party. The ad's aim is to soften Democratic support, siphoning valuable votes from the normally solid Democratic northern part of the state.

New Mexico In Depth recently began aggregating campaign finance data in a more easy-to-digest fashion at The Openness Project.

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