Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ben Ray's Cash Chase: No Lobbyists But PAC Men Welcome, Plus: The Quiet Campaign: Heinrich & Lujan, Also: Heather Showing More Leg On Guv Race? 

Rep. Lujan
That Congressman Ben Ray Lujan is having a June 10 D.C. fund-raiser hosted by US House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is not out of the ordinary, but our Potomac Alligators report the invite to the event has earned a second glance. In large, bold print the invite declares: "People for Ben does not take money from registered federal lobbyists." Is that a sign that "reform" is taking hold when it comes to congressional money-raising? It seems more symbolic than tangible.

The freshman Dem congressman is still taking money from corporate PAC's which is where the big money is raised. A PAC "Host" for the Lujan fund-raiser is being asked for $5,000 and a PAC "Sponsor" for $2,500. If you show up on your own, it will cost you a Grand to get in the door. And then there are the spouses of all those federal lobbyists. Lujan and other candidates are free to take their cash even while rejecting coin from "registered lobbyists." And while Lujan is rejecting federal lobbyist money, his fund-raiser with Steny will actually be hosted by Patrick Murphy, one of the Capitol's leading corporate PAC men, as described by The Hill:

Murphy holds so many parties that his caterers have house keys. “They know how to turn the house on and off,” he says.

Besides the boost to the local entertainment business, the events helped put Murphy’s firm, mCapitol Management, near the top of lobbying-only shops in terms of political action committee (PAC) giving. The firm’s PAC doled out more than $600,000 to candidates in the last cycle. His events are often the first that are held by a fledgling candidate’s campaign.

Lujan, son of the NM House Speaker Ben Lujan, was punched hard over his ties to "corporate interests" during a hotly contested 2008 Dem primary. The punching was done by Santa Fe "Green" developer Don Wiviott who came up short in his challenge. Don says he will not run against Lujan in 2010 and since has backed the new congressman. But he made his mark on Lujan's chin. Combined with the mountain of pay to play allegations piling up in the state, it appears to have Lujan taking this largely symbolic move over federal lobbyists' money that puts him on the right side of the corruption equation.


Lujan is in a very safe Dem district, but if a fellow Dem was going to try to take the seat from him, this might be the time. A freshman congressman is traditionally most vulnerable when going for his first re-election bid. (We could not find the actual re-elect rate for first-terms. Maybe someone will e-mail the answer.) Also, Lujan's cash coffers are low. At the end of March he reported only about $60,000 in the bank and he has nearly $160,000 in debt. Money from the Hoyer party can be designated for Lujan's 2010 primary or to pay off that hefty '08 debt.

My experts say the most effective challenge to Lujan might be modeled after the Wiviott campaign--from the left and from a well-financed Anglo, ideally including a few lesser known Hispanic Dems to dilute Lujan's support. We agree, but also would not discount the power of a Dem challenge from a well-known fellow Hispanic Dem, not that there are any barking at the door.

But what about an issue? Well, Lujan, like most Dems, recently supported Obama's additional funding for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, an anathema in liberal circles. And he has had very little to say about these foreign policy issues that were so much a part of the 2008 dialogue. A challenger might make hay over that. It seems to be why Lujan, who, like his father, has never been fully embraced by liberals and progressives is now seen heavily romancing progressives, even if not shouting the anti-war cause from the rooftops. But the war issue cuts both ways in the veteran-heavy and patriotic North. It's no shocker Lujan has been restrained on this most emotional of issues, while clinging mightily to more feel-good issues like renewable energy.


A formidable Democratic primary challenge to Ben Ray appears highly unlikely at this point, but his cash-raising will be closely watched as will his key votes. The new lawmaker recently had to own up to a financial mess his campaign had with tax records. He ended up paying more than $50,000 in late payroll taxes. That's the only substantially bad press he's received in his first five months on the job. We're sure Mr. Hoyer will urge him to keep it that way when he takes the young lawmaker under his wing at that high-dollar donor party.

Rep. Heinrich
While there's not much action on the 2010 Dem primary front for our US congressmen (including the South's Harry Teague), there is, if you believe the insiders and the Alligators--and we do--a quiet political competition between Lujan and ABQ Dem US Rep Martin Heinrich. Both men are so young---neither is yet 40--that talk is inevitable over who will do the better job and position themselves for an open NM US Senate seat.

Dem Senator Jeff Bingaman is 65 and new Dem Senator Tom Udall is 61. Jeff is getting ready for another run in 2012 and Udall was only elected in 2008. Still, Lujan, who turns 37 in June, and Heinrich, 37, can't be faulted if they sometimes daydream of making that leap. Look how quickly GOP US Reps. Wilson and Pearce got into last year's Senate race when Pete Domenici finally retired.


In the early going, Lujan is getting high marks for diligence and enthusiasm, but Heinrich has secured better committee assignments and his staffing is seen as having an edge over Lujan's. Heinrich also naturally commands more media attention, coming as he does from the state's only real media market. He also seems to be making a smooth transition to the vital middle. He needs to shed any remaining far-left baggage that poses a threat to any statewide hopes he may harbor, as well as to his continued popularity in the centrist district he represents. But Lujan is the state's only Hispanic representative in Washington, not just a point of pride, but consequential in a Democratic party heavy with minority influence. He has been active in Hispanic politics on Capitol Hill and that could be a gateway to future prominence. Heinrich has made much progress, but needs more time and effort to firmly establish his bona fides with this crucial constituency.

If what is now a quiet competition, barely visible as these two new members find their footing, does develop into something more spirited, it might cause some hurt feelings among the personalities involved but ultimately could benefit New Mexico. With the huge loss we have suffered in congressional seniority, any competition that results in advancement for this state will have "welcome" written all over it.

Heather Wilson is showing more leg, and she's going to show it before a national TV audience. First, the former ABQ GOP congresswoman and possible 2010 GOP Guv candidate showed some ankle with that ABQ Journal op-ed piece in which she decried the condition of the state's juvenile justice system. That got the hearts of the political Lotharios pumping as they saw it as a sign that she was moving toward a run for the 2010 GOP Guv nomination. Now word comes that Heather will play footsie with national comedian and commentator Bill Maher this Friday as a guest on his popular HBO show "Real Time." At least that's what the "crawl" at the bottom of the screen foretold at the conclusion of last week's episode.

We've been told that one of Heather's former congressional staffers is a friend to Maher. Heather made a 2006 appearance on the liberal rib tickler's program. Even if Heather lacks political ambition, her new found career as a national security consultant could be helped by a Maher appearance. The show is widely watched among liberals populating the Obama administration. But with a Guv run still in play, New Mexico politicos will laugh at Bill's jokes, but be looking at Heather in a more serious light.

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From Albuquerque, NM, I'm Joe Monahan reporting.

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