Editor’s Note: SolveClimate News political reporter Elizabeth McGovern is in New Mexico to cover the 2010 races there. This is the first installment in a three-part series.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—Outside corporate money is fueling a high-dollar New Mexico television advertising campaign that bashes Democratic incumbent Rep. Harry Teague for his cap-and-trade energy bill vote.
But that doesn’t mean environmental organizations are standing idly by.
Statistics compiled through mid-day Tuesday, Oct. 26 by the Sunlight Foundation—a nonprofit organization that favors government transparency—show that the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund has poured more than $799,000 into an advertising effort to defeat GOP challenger Steve Pearce, who is trying to regain the seat he lost to Teague two years ago.
The candidates—both with long careers in the oil and gas industry—are locked in a fierce, tight, back-and-forth contest to represent the sprawling and largely rural southern half of New Mexico, the 2nd Congressional District.
Numbers from the Sunlight Foundation indicate that the League of Conservation Voters and a group called the League of Conservation Voters Victory Fund has spent a combined $46,000-plus to support Teague with mailings and phone calls. The Victory Fund is a partnership with the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, according to Sunlight Foundation records.
Pearce called attention to one of the Defenders of Wildlife television ads in a Sunday debate with Teague broadcast on KOAT-TV, the ABC affiliate in Albuquerque. The Republican claimed that several outside investigations had proved the ad to be untrue.
Back in August, KOAT-TV pulled the ad after Pearce challenged its content. The ad focused on the former representative’s ties to special interests and accused him of questionable business dealings. It referred to Pearce being named one of the most corrupt members of Congress by the independent, Washington-based watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics. Defenders of Wildlife has endorsed Teague in this election.
“Defenders Action Fund regrets that KOAT-TV has buckled under pressure from the Pearce campaign and has made a political decision to cease broadcasting our TV ad, ‘Remember,’” organization president Rodger Schlickeisen wrote in an Aug. 10 news release. “Needless to say, we stand by the facts in our TV ad one hundred percent and its factual integrity is made evident by the fact five out of six TV stations continue to broadcast it.”
The advocacy organization’s most recent ad—released in late August and still running—questions Pearce’s ethics and accuses him of having close ties with oil and gas companies. It also alleges that he protected producers of the gasoline additive methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) from being held liable for polluting New Mexico’s drinking water.
Chamber Tags Teague’s Vote a Job Killer
During this election cycle, low-budget green groups have questioned and criticized the Citizens United 2010 Supreme Court decision that protects corporate campaign spending as free speech.
They claim it allows wealthy donors to remain anonymous by hiding behind conservative cover outfits such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has a long record of opposing legislation to curb heat-trapping gases, and newer groups with innocuous names such as Americans for Job Security.
Indeed, the Chamber of Commerce has spent close to $437,000 plastering New Mexico’s airwaves with an anti-Teague ad that paints House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as evil incarnate for leading the charge on the American Clean Energy and Security Act.
“Can New Mexico really afford higher electric rates? Or $4 a gallon gas? Or lose thousands of jobs?” an announcer asks during the television spot. “We’ll have to if Congressman Harry Teague gets his way. Teague was instrumental in passing Nancy Pelosi’s new job-killing energy tax. Teague’s vote would cost thousands of New Mexico jobs. We’ve been hurt enough. Tell Harry Teague, ‘Stop siding with Nancy Pelosi and costing New Mexico jobs.’”
Teague isn’t alone in being portrayed as a Pelosi “henchman.” The Chamber of Commerce has also spent millions slamming other House members who voted to pass the bill co-authored by Reps. Henry Waxman of California and Ed Markey of Massachusetts. Other Democrats also involved in nail-biter races who are on the attack list include Reps. Paul Hodes of New Hampshire and Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania, who are both vying for Senate seats, and Reps. Betsy Markey of Colorado and Alan Grayson of Florida, who are being challenged for their House seats.
Back in September, the conservative advocacy group Americans for Job Security also echoed Pearce’s campaign strategy by airing an ad whacking Teague for spearheading the effort to cap greenhouse gas emissions and offer incentives for the development of carbon-neutral energy. The ad claimed a cap-and-trade system would boost household electricity rates by up to $600 annually, raise gasoline prices by $1.35 a gallon and eliminate 12,000 jobs in New Mexico at a time when “the economy is in a tailspin.”
Figures from the Sunlight Foundation indicate the conservative organization spent upward of $54,500 on the ad.
Nonprofit Shines a Spotlight on Expenditures
In compiling campaign spending numbers for the Teague and Pearce campaigns, the Sunlight Foundation refers to money spent by the Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Job Security as “electioneering communications.” Thus far, the two groups have spent a total of $491,525 on anti-Teague efforts.
That total for “electioneering communications” is counted separately from other money the Sunlight Foundation is tracking in the Teague campaign. Those other two tallies include $62,188.94 in independent expenditures supporting the Democrat and $549,773.46 in independent expenditures opposing him. Not surprisingly, all of the money making up that latter figure came from the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Over on the Pearce side, the Sunlight Foundation had no records of any “electioneering communications.” Pearce’s total for independent expenditures supporting the Republican rang in at $33,907.16. Independent expenditures opposing him added up to $1,428,116.50. Besides the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, other anti-Pearce funds came in the form of $478,225.79 from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, $115,000 from a group called Accountability 2010 and another $35,700 from America’s Families First Action Fund.
Democratic Campaign Committee Cutting Cash Flow to Teague?
Mid-October reports from various media outlets in New Mexico indicated that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has recently reversed course by cutting back on the amount of money for ads it previously planned on buying to support Teague.
Despite the change, the committee chairman said the organization is still backing Teague 100 percent. Elected in 2008, Teague is the first Democrat to occupy the 2nd Congressional District seat in more than two decades.
“The DCCC regularly makes adjustments based on the level of outside group activity in the state,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said in a prepared statement. “Based on our assessment on the level of TV advertising in the district, Harry Teague is in a strong position. We are fully invested in Harry Teague’s voter contact efforts and remain confident he will win on election night.”
As expected, the Pearce campaign had a different spin on the juggling of Democratic dollars.
“The DCCC is realizing what we knew all along,” spokesman Jason Heffley said. “Voters do not want the Teague-Pelosi agenda of out-of-control spending and lost jobs.”