Storefront lending companies and affiliated associations gave nearly $140,000 to New Mexico public officials and political action committees in 2013 and 2014, according to an analysis of data from the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office.
The bulk of that -- $115,805 -- went to dozens of elected officials, including Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, Democratic Attorney General Hector Balderas and more than half of the members of the New Mexico Legislature, Democrats and Republicans alike.
The 18 companies and associations also gave $23,333 to political action committees closely tied to Democrats and Republicans, a New Mexico In Depth analysis shows.
The industry's spending offers insight into the ongoing fight in the Roundhouse over whether the state should cap at 36 percent the interest rate such lenders can charge. It also reveals how money often plays a role in politics.
Supporters of the cap say the rates lenders ultimately charge on some loans are in excess of 1,000 percent, with the average hovering around 350 percent. Most borrowers, advocates say, are low-income people of color.
The companies and associations oppose the rate cap idea and have hired a small army of lobbyists to work on the issue. They and their employers say many storefront lenders would go out of business if New Mexico adopted the cap. And if they go away, a population that already can’t get loans from main street banks and financial institutions would lose a resource for loans for such things as emergencies.
So far, bills to cap interest rates have stalled in both House and Senate legislative committees. Rep. Yvette Herrell, the Republican chairwoman of the House Regulatory and Public Affairs committee, which rejected two rate-cap bills, said earlier this month she wanted to see legislation written by the industry.
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez reaped the most from the industry, $27,225. She was followed by New Mexico’s Democratic attorney general, Hector Balderas, who collected $15,700, the analysis shows.
Among state lawmakers, two Democrats topped the list -- Rep. Patricia Lundstrom of Gallup collected $3,550 and Rep. Debbie Rodella of Española received $3,300.
Republicans Kelly Fajardo of Belen and House Majority Leader Nate Gentry of Albuquerque took the third and fourth spots, with $2,900 and $2,500, respectively.
About half of the $115,000 in contributions to individual campaigns came from two sources -- the Consumer Lending Alliance Inc. and Fast Bucks Inc.
Records show the Alliance contributed $30,400 in 2013 and 2014 and was Balderas’ biggest contributor among industry donors, giving him three contributions of $5,200, $3,000 and $2,000 for a total of $10,200 over that period.
Fast Bucks, meanwhile, gave $29,450. It was the governor’s largest contributor among the industry donors, giving two contributions of $3,000 and $5,200 for a total of $8,200 to the second-term Republican over that period.
The industry also contributed to the campaigns of around 60 current state lawmakers in the 112-member Legislature, with nearly 40 Republicans and around 25 Democrats receiving money, the analysis shows.
Heather Ferguson of Common Cause New Mexico said campaign contributions don’t equate to votes on legislation. But they do give contributors the opportunity to talk to public officials about their issues.
In the Roundhouse, relationships matter. And campaign contributions help build and maintain relationships.
“It can serve to be an avenue that can be used to have an audience to discuss more of your issue, thus taking power away or the ability to communicate easily with legislators from the common citizens,” Ferguson said.
This story is part of a reporting partnership between New Mexico In Depth, KUNM and NMPBS, People, Power and Democracy, that attempts to pull back the curtain on how the New Mexico Legislature works and, in some cases, doesn’t. It's funded by the Thornburg Foundation and the Loeks Family Fund.