Campaign cash may be as much at the heart of the the fight over union membership laws in New Mexico as the dispute over union dues, though no one will directly say so.
Labor unions spent nearly $2.8 million in the 2013-14 election cycle, virtually all of that going to Democratic political action committees and candidates, a New Mexico In Depth analysis shows.
The bulk of that money – more than $1.7 million – went to Patriot Majority New Mexico, a political action committee, or super PAC, supporting Democratic House candidates.
The fight for the House was a losing effort for Democrats and unions, with Republicans taking control of the body for the first time in 60 years.
That set up the “right-to-work” battle that ended – for now – with a Senate committee tabling two bills to ban union fees for non-members who benefit from union-negotiated salaries and benefits.
“This session clearly shows they (unions) have significant power over the political process in this state,” said Paul Gessing, president of the Rio Grande Foundation, a free-market think tank that supports the legislation.
Gessing said if Gov. Susana Martinez doesn’t put the issue on the agenda for 2016’s 30-day session, it likely will return in 2017.
Carter Bundy, a lobbyist for AFSCME, a government employees’ union, agreed that the issue is far from dead in New Mexico.
“It’s something that a lot of national people are looking to have passed in as many states as possible,” Bundy said. “It may still pass this year. We’re not out of the woods yet.”
Democrats are big beneficiaries
Unions donated nearly $273,000 directly to House candidates, with more than $187,000 going to candidates who lost. In fact, 10 House candidates received union donations of $9,450 or more. Only two of them – Reps. Matthew McQueen and Stephanie Garcia Richard - won in November.
Former Rep. Emily Kane, an Albuquerque fire captain, received nearly $36,000 in union contributions, including more than $17,000 from various firefighter unions. But she lost her race to GOP Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes.
One of the winning House members, Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque, is now a senator after being appointed to fill a vacancy. She received $5,000 in union contributions for her House campaign. She was one of five Democrats voting Tuesday to table the Republican “right-to-work” bills.
Seven other Democratic senators received contributions ranging from $500 to $4,400 from unions during the 2014 cycle. They are among the 42 senators who will be up for reelection in 2016.
Three Democrats running for statewide office received the most from unions. Gubernatorial candidate Gary King, who lost to Martinez, received $72,900 from unions. Attorney General Hector Balderas received $51,150, while unsuccessful secretary of state candidate Maggie Toulouse Oliver received $44,219.
Republican candidates and interests received only about $3,000 from union interests. Maestas Barnes, for instance, received $500 from Albuquerque Area Firefighters a few days after the November election.
Public employee unions
The biggest union spenders represent government workers and teachers.
Government is the largest employer in New Mexico with 192,000 of almost 917,000 total jobs in December, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is down from a peak of 202,000 government jobs in late 2005 and early 2006.
Nearly $1 million of the union campaign contributions came from various affiliates of AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Another $770,000 came from the National Education Association and its affiliates, while the American Federation of Teachers and its affiliates spent nearly $550,000.
AFSCME workers in Albuquerque plan to go door-to-door Saturday on behalf of Democratic Sens. Daniel Ivey-Soto and John Sapien, both of whom voted against the Republican bills on Tuesday.
That sort of activism may also be part of what is motivating Republicans, Bundy said.
“They (Democrats) won’t have that source of volunteers or funding” if unions don't have the financial resources to survive, Bundy said.
Contributions for political purposes are separate from union dues or fees, and they’re voluntary, Bundy said. Union members must sign up to donate politically, typically giving small amounts monthly.
“No ‘fair share’ money is ever used for politics,” he said.
But, Bundy said, “Even under the current system, unions get outspent by corporations.”
The other side
Bundy is correct when he says Republican candidates and interests have their own benefactors.
The two largest state-level GOP PACs, Advance New Mexico Now and Susana PAC, raised more than $1.8 million in 2013-14, mostly aiming at taking back the House. Less than one-third – about $573,000 – of that came from New Mexico donors.
Here’s a look at donors by state:
Another $501,000 came from Texas donors. That included $100,000 – the largest donation from an individual – to Advance New Mexico Now from Marcus Hiles, a Grand Prairie developer. Stanley Harper, of Mansfield and one of the top 100 landowners in the nation, gave $70,000 to Advance. And Paul Foster, an oil billionaire from El Paso, gave $50,000.
The Republican State Leadership Committee, a Washington, D.C.,-based nonprofit, donated $355,000 to Advance. That group works to elect GOP candidates at the state level.
And Mack Energy, an Artesia-based oil company, donated $100,000 to Advance and $10,000 to Susana PAC.
Here are the top 10 donors to the two PACs:
A range of other business interests – oil and gas, developers, investors and others – also donated to the two PACs.
“We have a lot of business associations, the other side of the right to work, that donates to Republicans,” said Viki Harrison, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico. “Anybody who’s involved in the right to work issue, they’re big donors, on either side.”
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.