Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham pulled in an impressive $2.5 million in campaign contributions for her reelection bid over the last six months, far more than any of the Republicans hoping to challenge the Democratic incumbent in November 2022.
But it was the money she spent, not the amount she raised, that generated the most attention Monday.
Lujan Grisham’s political committee paid an additional $87,500 as part of a settlement with a former campaign staffer who accused her of grabbing his genitals during her candidacy for governor. The campaign had previously reported five monthly payments of $12,500 each between November and March in the last reporting period, bringing the total payout to James Hallinan to $150,000.
“The only comment I can provide is that the parties have resolved this matter to their mutual satisfaction,” Hallinan’s attorney, Ken Stalter, said in a brief telephone interview.
Hallinan declined to comment and referred inquiries to Stalter.
Kendall Witmer, Lujan Grisham’s campaign spokeswoman, said in a statement the governor, as well as her then-campaign adviser, Dominic Gabello, unequivocally deny the “false, dubious, and meritless claims” made by Hallinan.
“The campaign reached this settlement in 2020 due to the expense of litigating business disputes and to prevent any distraction during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Witmer said.
The additional payments to Hallinan sparked stinging criticism toward the governor by the Republican Party of New Mexico, which accused Lujan Grisham in a news release of “using donations to pay more sex harassment hush money.”
Chairman Steve Pearce said no amount of money can erase New Mexicans’ frustrations.
“People are moving out of state because this state doesn’t seem to have any promise for the future,” he said. “Crime is out of control. The border is out of control. The Biden administration is doing nothing on these. The governor is looking the other way, and now it comes out that she’s still paying hush money to the person who accuses her of being a sexual predator. These things stack up, and so money does not answer all these questions.”
For its part, Lujan Grisham’s campaign touted her fundraising haul, writing it puts her “squarely on the path for victory in November 2022.” The governor has
$2.1 million cash on hand.
The campaign issued a news release that included statements of praise from several Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Brian Egolf and Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, both Santa Fe Democrats.
“New Mexicans know that Governor Lujan Grisham is the best choice to lead the Land of Enchantment — she has delivered on improving our children’s education, growing our booming economy, and bravely guiding New Mexico through the COVID-19 pandemic,” Egolf said in a statement.
Among the seven Republican hopefuls seeking the GOP nomination for governor, state Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, led the pack in fundraising.
Dow reported raising more than $440,000, which her campaign said surpassed the amount former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez collected in her first fundraising quarter.
While the statutory deadline to file campaign finance reports was Monday, the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office wrote on its website it wouldn’t assess a penalty if a report was filed Tuesday, as Monday as a holiday.
Only two other Republican contenders, Ethel Maharg and Greg Zanetti, filed campaign finance reports by Monday.
Zanetti, an investment advisor and former chairman of the Republican Party of Bernalillo County, reported $339,103 in contributions. But more than half of that total came out of his own pocket. Zanetti loaned his campaign $185,135 on Sept. 30, according to his camping filing. He has almost $240,000 cash on hand after spending nearly $100,000, including $16,000 for campaign consulting services.
Maharg, a former mayor of the village of Cuba who now serves as the executive director of the anti-abortion Right to Life Committee of New Mexico, reported $8,707 in contributions, including a $4,000 loan from friend Corrine Rios of Rio Rancho. Maharg reported spending $7,550, leaving her with $1,556 cash on hand.
“Just call me Seabiscuit,” Maharg said, referring to the small racehorse that upset the 1937 Triple Crown winner, War Admiral, in 1938.
Maharg said she’s not naive and knows it’ll take money to run an effective campaign.
“Good for them; I’m glad they have lots of money,” she said of Lujan Grisham and some of her competitors in the GOP. “But like I said, I’m not naive to the fact that we need money. I’m not. But that’s not the only thing that moves our state. You know what? I’ve been able to mobilize thousands of people, and I’ll do it again.”
In a follow-up interview, Maharg said her campaign had just hired two fundraising consultants.
“I’m not going to quit by any stretch of the imagination,” she said.
Another GOP hopeful, Tim Walsh, a retired teacher who worked as an education adviser to former Gov. Gary Johnson, said he’s not yet actively fundraising and that he hasn’t spent any money except for a small amount of his own.
“All I can say is I’m a fiscal conservative, and I realize that the less you spend early on, the more you have later when it counts,” he said.
Walsh said he plans to loan his campaign $100,000 and is “just waiting for the right moment.”
Pearce, the GOP chairman, said Lujan Grisham is poised to lead in fundraising in the governor’s race.
“It’s gonna be pretty cut and dry — she is gonna have more money,” he said. “The question is, are the voters going to stay with her even with all the failures? That’s the question.”