SANTA FE, N.M. — Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce is seeking a federal court injunction to tap into $1 million in political contributions that he collected while in Congress to use in his run for governor of New Mexico.
The motion, filed late Thursday in federal court, seeks to block enforcement of limitations on campaign transfers from Pearce’s federal campaign account to a state one. Approval could give Pearce access to campaign cash while underlying issues are litigated.
The Secretary of State’s Office says that only $11,000 can be transferred by Pearce, based on a New Mexico law that limits campaign contributions to $5,500 in a primary election and again in the general election.
In court documents, Pearce called that allowance a trivial amount of money that is hampering his early campaign opportunities and making it difficult to raise additional funds from supporters.
The office of Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver says that Pearce was warned in advance that federal campaign transfers would be limited.
“New Mexico law simply doesn’t provide a means for federal campaign funds to be moved into a State campaign account,” said Joey Keefe, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office, in an email Friday.
Pearce has named Attorney General Hector Balderas in the lawsuit as an enforcer of state campaign finance decisions. Balderas spokesman James Hallinan said Pearce was attempting to disrupt the attorney general’s job of preventing corruption.
“Candidate for governor Steve Pearce continues to waste precious tax dollars to further his political career while attempting to disrupt Attorney General Balderas from doing his job of protecting New Mexicans from corruption, fraud and campaign finance abuse,” Hallinan said in an email.
The attorney general and secretary of state — both Democrats — have not yet submitted a formal response to Pearce’s lawsuit, which was filed in July. Attorneys for Pearce have accused them of delay tactics, which they firmly deny.
In new court filings, Pearce alleged that restrictions on his federal campaign funds are infringing on his free-speech rights. He notes that state officeholders can roll over their unspent contributions to a campaign for governor, citing the example of former Lieutenant Gov. Diane Denish and her unsuccessful run for governor in 2010.
Pearce is the sole Republican candidate for governor, with a crowded field contending for the Democratic nomination that includes U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham of Albuquerque. Campaign finance filings indicate Lujan Grisham spent nearly all her federal account dollars on last year’s election, and had $740,000 in a state campaign account as of April.
Attorneys for Pearce say the congressman sought assurances last year that he would be able to transfer federal campaign funds by consulting with the Secretary of State’s Office, then under the leadership of Republican Brad Winter.
Pearce took the answer to mean that a full transfer of federal funds to a state campaign account would be allowed, while the current secretary of state says the advice was just the opposite.
“Winter told Congressman Pearce sixteen months ago that he can’t transfer his millions of federally raised dollars into a New Mexico account for Governor, and Secretary of State Toulouse Oliver gave him the exact same answer in July,” Keefe said.