SANTA FE, N.M. — An attorney for U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce has accused elected New Mexico officials of using stall tactics in court to starve the Republican congressman’s gubernatorial campaign of funding.
As he runs for New Mexico governor in 2018, Pearce filed a lawsuit in July seeking access to a $1 million campaign finance chest that he assembled over the years as a congressman.
Attorney Bill Canfield said political maneuvering is behind a request for an extended period to respond to the lawsuit in federal court.
New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and Attorney General Hector Balderas — both Democrats — have requested 60 days to respond as defendants instead of the original three weeks allowed.
“They’re playing hide the ball,” Canfield said from Washington, D.C. “They’re trying to hold this thing off as long as they possibly can so that the utility of the campaign transfer is gradually reduced over time.”
In federal court filings, Toulouse Oliver and Balderas cite legal complexities of a case that names them personally as defendants, and say there is ample time before the June 2018 primary elections.
The Secretary of State’s Office has informed Pearce that only $11,000 could be transferred from his federal election campaign account to a state one, based on a New Mexico law that limits campaign contributions to $5,500 in a primary election and again in the general election.
Joey Keefe, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said Wednesday that the same guidance on transfers is being provided to all candidates for governor regardless of partisan affiliations.
“Congressman Pearce’s lawsuit raises multiple complex legal and constitutional questions that could have long-term effects on how campaigns are financed in New Mexico, so it should come as no surprise that our attorneys asked for some additional time to respond,” he said in an email.
James Hallinan, a spokesman for the attorney general, said that Balderas should not have been named in the lawsuit — a circumstance that requires more time for all defendants to respond.
Canfield says the delay hurts Pearce’s prospects and serves Democratic political interests.
He noted that Balderas has endorsed a prominent Democratic contender — U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Pearce and Lujan Grisham have both announced they will not seek re-election to Congress in 2018.
Pearce has said that he followed federal limits on individual campaign contributions that are more stringent than state restrictions on those donations.
His legal challenge also is based on a 1996 federal court decision that allowed Bill Richardson to funnel federal campaign funds to New Mexico as he prepared to run for governor after leaving Congress. Richardson, a Democrat, was governor from 2003 to 2011.