SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - A political fund for environmental conservation causes in New Mexico plans to devote $500,000 to highlighting financial ties between Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce’s and the oil and natural gas industries, starting with local television ads this week.
Conservation Voters New Mexico Executive Director Demis Foster said the ads - including social media outreach - take aim at Pearce for accepting campaign donations from the oil and gas sector while siding with the industry in Congress over concerns about public health and environmental pollution.
The publicity campaign by the group’s Verde Voters Fund kicks off with a television ad that says Pearce has taken extensive campaign contributions from oil and natural gas businesses while pushing to open more land to petroleum exploration and voting to make it easier to privatize public land.
Pearce campaign spokesman Kevin Sheridan called the accusation about privatization false and ridiculous. He notes that Verde Voters Fund is supported by contributions from billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Demis said the majority of money for the Verde Voters Fund’s campaign concerning Pearce comes from the League of Conservation Voters - a partner group and national organization whose top priority is to combat climate change.
She said a $150,000 donation from Bloomberg in late May was related to primary elections for utility-regulator positions on the state Public Regulation Commission, amid heavy political spending by the state’s largest publicly regulated utility. Two incumbent commissioners were ousted.
As an independent expenditure group, the Verde Voter Fund is not allowed to coordinate directly with campaigns - including that of the Democratic nominee for governor, Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Foster says the assessment of Pearce’s voting record hinges on a score assigned by the League of Conservation Voters, which says Pearce has voted in favor of significant pro-environment legislation 4 percent of the time in Congress.
“I think it’s absolutely appropriate that we protect our communities in New Mexico from what we have seen him do in Congress,” Foster said.
Sheridan said the agenda of the Verde Voter Fund puts in peril the state’s energy economy that sustains state government spending. About one-third of the general fund revenues derive from oil and natural gas.
Both gubernatorial candidates are pledging to diversify the state economy amid a boom in oil exploration concentrated in southeastern New Mexico.
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