After the last ballots were cast in New Mexico’s June primary election, oil and gas companies had sent millions of dollars to influence political campaigns during New Mexico’s June primary election that selected nominees from both parties to run for governor in the November General Election.
Former meteorologist Mark Ronchetti secured the GOP nomination for the governor’s race over former State Rep. Rebecca Dow and led other candidates in contributions received from oil and gas, per a recent report from New Mexico Ethics Watch.
Ronchetti garnered about $500,000 in donations from the oil and gas industry, records show, while Dow received about $154,000.
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The New Mexico House Republican Campaign Committee took in about $216,000 from the industry, per the report, during the primary season.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, seeking re-election and facing no opponents from her party for the nomination, got about $137,000 from industry sources, the report read, while the governor’ race accounted for about a third of oil and gas’ contributions leading up to the election.
Candidates for the New Mexico House of Representatives received 29 percent of industry contributions, per the analysis, while political action committees got about 26 percent.
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In the House, Democrat Rep. Patricia Lundstrom (D-9) received the most from the oil and gas industry at $44,000.
Lundstrom, who chairs the Legislative Finance Committee, pushed a series of bills during the 2022 Legislative Session earlier this year to embolden a hydrogen power industry in New Mexico which environmentalist opponents argued would amount to support for fossil fuels as most hydrogen power presently requires the burning of natural gas.
Chevron was the highest contributor among oil and gas companies, the report read, giving $250,000 during the primary cycle, followed by Devon Energy at $122,000 in contributions and Exxon Mobil at $104,000.
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Marathon Oil gave $86,000 and Occidental Petroleum paid out $81,000 to candidates and committees, per the report, during the last election cycle.
The study also analyzed environmental groups’ contribution, which it said totaled about $160,000, led by Conservation Voters New Mexico that gave about $44,000 during the primary.
Conservation PAC Verde Voters spent about $44,000 on campaign literature, the report read, and $11,000 on postage.
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The Rio Grande Chapter of national environmental group the Sierra Club gave about $2,000 in contributions to candidates, the report read, while its Healthy Communities PAC spent about $24,000 on materials and contributions.
New Mexico Ethics Watch Executive Direct Kathleen Sabo said that worsening climate change was largely accredited to oil and gas operations, and she contended that fossil fuel companies hoped to skirt through financial influence on state politics.
“The overwhelming majority of scientists recognize the connection between fossil fuel use and climate change,” Sabo said. “Yet the oil and gas industry continues to press the case for increased oil and gas production in the state with minimal regulation, while contributing mightily to the state’s political candidates.”
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But oil and gas leaders and their supporters asserted the industry should have a strong role in state policy decision making as a main economic driver.
More than a third of New Mexico’s budget comes from oil and gas revenue, records show, and regulatory decisions from lawmakers and state government officials can have a strong impact on the industry’s activities.
Last year, the industry accounted for $5.3 billion in state revenue, per data from the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, an all-time record and $500 million more than in 2020.
New Mexico Rep. Jim Townsend (R-54) of Artesia in the oil-rich southeast region of the state said he expected the Democrat-led legislature to struggle to retain its control in November as recent environmental policies, he said, brought higher energy prices for New Mexico’s consumers.
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“I think peoples’ lives are affected by legislation and that affects election results,” Townsend said. “Legislators are held accountable whether they are in Congress or in Santa Fe for the legislation they pass or legislation that just happens to pass.”
Townsend said he was confident higher prices for gasoline, consumer goods and declines in employment would translate to victories for the GOP during the November election, as voters were likely to reject Democrat-led policies, he said, that were bad for the economy.
“Gas being more than $4 a gallon is hurting New Mexicans, and they will hold leaders accountable,” Townsend said. “You’re seeing homeowners’ electricity bills going up because of energy. Wind and solar has not been effective in holding prices down.
“I expect that the people of New Mexico are not happy, and they will vote for a change. For Republicans, I think it will be a successful election cycle.”
Spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association Joe Vigil said the oil and gas companies should have a strong voice in New Mexico politics as a lead industry in the state.
The industry supports more than 134,000 jobs in the state, Vigil said, and $27 billion in economic activity, while providing funds for public schools and infrastructure throughout the state.
“It is important for the oil and gas industry to have a voice with New Mexico’s leaders because the state’s economy, communities, schools, and families depend on a strong and growing oil and natural gas industry,” he said in a statement.
“The industry provides $1.4 billion annually for schools across the state, supports the construction of vital infrastructure such a roads and highways to keep New Mexico on the move and helps put more first responders on the streets to keep our communities safe.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.