Gordon Gekko, the greedy financier in the 1987 movie Wall Street, told us what to expect.
“Money never sleeps,” he said.
Now email boxes load up each morning with pleas from politicians who want cash. They say they can change the world, or at least New Mexico, if you send $10, or $130, or whatever amount you can fork over.
The most relentless solicitor of political contributions in New Mexico is Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján. He is running for the U.S. Senate and often claims he’s in desperate need of cash to reach his campaign targets, though he won’t say what they are.
“I’m 72 hours from the biggest deadline of my entire life. I can’t overstate how critical hitting my end-of-year goal is to flipping [Mitch] McConnell’s Senate,” Luján said in one of his emails, which are as breathless as they are redundant.
Luján knows the value of a dollar and the difficulty of running an organization dependent on the generosity of others.
This led me to a question: How much money did Luján, whose base salary in Congress is $174,000 annually, give to charity last year?
I asked for a list of organizations he donated to and the amounts. A spokeswoman for Luján peppered me with questions about my request. What’s the peg? Is there a thesis to your column? Are you comparing him to other candidates?
After answering her questions, I knew what would happen. Luján would deploy a paid surrogate to provide a response without any specifics.
“Ben Ray regularly supports a number of charity and advocacy organizations but does so privately as he is seeking to support their causes and goals, not get publicity for the donations,” said Brad Elkins, his campaign manager.
Since I requested a list of Luján’s contributions, this was hardly a case of the congressman seeking attention for any charitable giving. Luján’s camp knew this but claimed humility prevented him from answering.
Two Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate were more forthcoming.
Mick Rich, a contractor from Albuquerque, listed donations to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and Catholic Charities of New Mexico. He didn’t provide amounts.
In addition, Mick Rich Contractors donated unspecified amounts of labor and materials to help build homes for Habitat for Humanity in the greater Albuquerque area, the Española Valley and Los Alamos.
Finally, a spokesman said, Rich’s company contributed to groups favored by its employees.
These included the New Mexico Shrine Circus, Eldorado High School’s volleyball team, and Rio Grande High School’s swimming and football teams.
Republican candidate Gavin Clarkson, a professor who is suing New Mexico State University claiming wrongful termination, also released a summary of his charitable donations.
“Dr. Clarkson provides regular financial support to First Baptist Church of Las Cruces, where he sings in the choir, and the Southwest Coalition for Life, whom he also gave a special contribution for their Stork Bus mobile ultrasound campaign,” a spokesman said.
The other three Republicans didn’t respond or didn’t provide details of their charitable giving.
A spokesman for candidate Elisa Martinez phoned to discuss my request. He said Martinez is not wealthy, as she runs a nonprofit anti-abortion organization, New Mexico Alliance for Life.
I reviewed her agency’s statements exempting it from federal income taxes. Martinez always lists herself as working about 25 hours a week. She stated in these documents that she did not receive any income, health benefits or other compensation from New Mexico Alliance for Life.
As for assisting charities, Martinez’s camp never provided information about her monetary contributions, if any.
Two other Republicans, Louie Sanchez and Mark Ronchetti, entered the Senate race last week.
Sanchez asked about my deadline.
I said it was Monday of this week, but I could extend it if Sanchez needed additional time to compile his list of contributions. I heard nothing more from him.
Ronchetti was chief meteorologist at television station KRQE before entering the Senate race. His campaign staff did not respond to written requests for a list of his charitable donations.
How generous the candidates are with their own money and which agencies they support is a fair line of questioning. Senate candidates shouldn’t be mysterious. Whoever wins the seat might have the equivalent of a lifetime appointment, a stay of 30 or 40 years.
To further assist voters, all of them should make public their tax returns. This is something Luján called on President Donald Trump to do. Yet Luján himself refuses to release his own tax returns.
He has said documents he files with the U.S. House of Representatives provide a thorough view of his finances.
Maybe, but his tax returns might just contain details not available in the congressional report.
He’s made plain that he wants the public’s support, both in votes and cold cash.
What’s the harm in Luján and the rest letting the public know how much they’ve paid in taxes, what debts they’ve accrued or which deductions they’ve claimed?
It could only break the monotony of all those appeals for your money.
Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-986-3080.