- Associated Press - Thursday, November 3, 2016

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico voters are getting a final glimpse before election day at political spending on candidates for state offices as campaign ads blanket mailboxes, television and social media.

Candidates and political committees had until Thursday night to disclose contributions and expenditures to the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office for a four-week period ending Nov. 1.

A Republican-aligned political committee that is behind a stream of negative campaign advertising in competitive legislative races spent $1.1 million during the period. Advance New Mexico Now spent the money on media buys, research polling and other expenses. It raised $500,000 from contributors, half from the Washington-based Republican State Leadership Committee.

The super PAC is run by Jay McCleskey, a top political consultant to Republican New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.

Among Democrat-aligned political committees, New Mexico Together on Thursday reported spending $183,000 in the past month, including $138,000 on ad buys and media production costs.

The committee has sponsored a raft of negative ads against Republicans as it focuses on six state Senate races. Contributions of $311,000 were made to the committee in October, mostly from organized labor groups. They included $145,000 from teachers unions and $120,000 from a union for public employees.

As presidential candidates compete for the state’s five electoral votes, the entire New Mexico Legislature is up for election. Republicans are defending a 37-33 majority in the House of Representatives, and Democrats dominate the Senate 24-18.

New Mexico places a combined $10,800 limit on primary and general election donations to individual campaigns or political committees that work closely with candidates.

At the same time, much of the money flowing into election efforts passes without limits through so-called super PACs that are barred from coordinating directly with candidates.

“The PACs and super PACs are playing a major role in the legislative races here,” Albuquerque-based pollster Brian Sanderoff said. “They’re even on network television in the legislative races, which is not unprecedented but is unusual.”

Recent mudslinging by independent political committees has focused in particular on the Senate race between majority floor leader Michael Sanchez and Republican challenger Greg Baca, both of Belen.

One mailer from Advance New Mexico Now has accused Sanchez of going on a taxpayer-financed trip to Hawaii - a claim that Sanchez has called an outright lie. Angie Poss, the campaign manager to Sanchez, said Thursday the senator has never been to Hawaii. Jessica Perez, the treasurer for Advance, declined to comment Thursday on the accuracy of the ad.

Sanchez has fought back in ads that point out major contributions from out-of-state oil and natural gas interests to Advance New Mexico Now, while New Mexico Together sponsored an ad that highlights candidate Baca’s arrest record for DUI and a public fight from more than a decade ago.

In a hard-fought campaign for secretary of state, Republican candidate Nora Espinoza spent $287,000 in October almost entirely on political ad buys and media production.

The state lawmaker from Roswell is running against Democratic Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver to see who will serve as the state’s top elections administrator and regulator of campaign finance disclosures.

For her part, Toulouse Oliver’s campaign spent $276,000, much of it on political consulting and media advertising.

Toulouse Oliver has sought in television ads to tie her opponent to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Espinoza is campaigning on concerns about voter fraud and used one recent TV ad to show that an Albuquerque man was able to enter his dog on voter registration rolls. Toulouse-Oliver has said she referred that case to law enforcement.

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