Adrian Hedden | Carlsbad Current Argus | 10/6/2020
New Mexico’s oil and gas industry was poised to be a major influencer in the state’s politics going into the 2020 General Election and subsequent January 2021 Legislative Session.
Even as the industry struggled to recover from historic losses brought on by the COVID-19 health crisis, records show oil and gas companies and associated groups contributed thousands of dollars during the 2020 election cycle to political campaigns and other activities throughout New Mexico.
During the first campaign reporting period of the 2020 election, running from June 30 to Sept. 7, the industry spent about $900,000 on political activities in the state, per a recent study from New Mexico Ethics Watch.
In those two months, 183 individuals associated with oil and gas made contributions, the study read, compared to about 500 the organization identified between 2017 and 2019.
Of the contributions tied to the oil and gas sector, businesses made about $564,000 in direct contributions to New Mexico candidates, committees or political action committees (PACs), read the study.
Another $211,000 came from individuals associated with the industry, while oil and gas PACs gave $86,000 and lobbying organizations tied to the industry gave about $31,000.
Chevron Energy made one of the highest contributions among oil and gas companies, the study showed, giving either directly or through Chevron’s PACs about $388,000 to state politicians, combining with about $900,000 the company gave during the June Primary Election.
Chevron’s contributions dwarfed other major business contributors, the study showed, with other top donators Strata Production Company giving $36,000 and the Jalapeno Corporation give $24,000.
Chevron mostly gave to Republicans, records show, donating $175,650 or 68 percent of its $258,000 in candidate contributions to the party.
Major gasoline retailers Bowling Travel Center and Brewer Oil gave $19,000 and $15,000, respectively.
Industry-wide, about $456,000 or 76 percent of oil and gas’ $603,000 donated to candidates went to GOP candidates, the study read.
Kathleen Sabo, executive director of New Mexico Ethics Watch said it was clear that oil and gas had continued to be a strong influence of New Mexico politics even as the state grappled with an economic downturn brought on by the pandemic.
“At a time when so many New Mexicans are struggling financially, it’s amazing to see industries, such as oil and gas, still pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into political campaigns,” Sabo said.
“Though the pandemic has seriously slowed New Mexico’s economy, it appears that COVID-19 hasn’t slowed the flow of money from the oil industry into the coffers of our politicians.”
But State Sen. Gay Kernan (R-42) said the industry deserves to have a voice in the state’s decision making as it is a key economic driver in New Mexico.
Kernan, who is running unopposed for the seat she’s held since 2002, was listed in the study as one of top five candidates receiving oil and gas contributions at $17,000 in donations during the first reporting time frame for the 2020 General Election.
She was joined on the list by Isabella Solis, a Republican from Dona Ana County running for the New Mexico House’s District 37 at $27,000, Republican Robert Godshall running for House District 27 who received $25,000, Crystal Diamond who won the GOP nomination to the Senate’s and received $22,325 and Giovanni Coppola who is running for the House’s District 68 and received $20,500 from the oil and gas industry.
Kernan pointed to more than 40 percent of the state’s budget coming from oil and gas, and argued the industry’s needs should be considered by lawmakers to keep such revenue strong in New Mexico.
“It’s important for them to have a voice because we need to continue the oil and gas industry in New New Mexico,” Kernan said. “Everyone understands the revenue that comes in. That affects all of New Mexico.”
Representing southeast New Mexico counties such as Eddy and Lea where the state’s oil and gas operations are mostly focused, Kernan said, means telling the story of extraction’s contributions to the state in funding public services such as infrastructure and education.
“We do the best we can as representatives of the area to make sure our colleagues across the state understand the industry,” she said.
But the financial contributions for the industry to her campaign, Kernan said, doesn’t mean she’s beholden to the industry.
“I get contributions from companies and industries, but I don’t always support whey they do,” she said. “In my view, we’re under no obligation to do anything except be the best legislator we can be. I am obligated only to my constituents.”
Without having to run a major campaign as she faces no opposition in November, Kernan said her campaign funds would be used to support other candidates that she said understand the importance of oil and gas and economic development in the southeast.
“I certainly have raised a good amount of money and have used it to help candidates in my area,” she said. “Those are people that understand the value of oil and gas. It contributes so much to New Mexico.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516,
or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.