District 4 race heats up as voters go to polls Tuesday

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FARMINGTON — Incumbent Public Regulation Commissioner Lynda Lovejoy is facing controversy regarding some donations made to her campaign while a campaign ad mailed to some voters by a political action committee is alleging another candidate in the race in not eligible to serve.

The primary election is Tuesday, and three Democratic Party candidates are running for the District 4 seat on the commission that represents northwest New Mexico.

Lovejoy will once again face Theresa Becenti-Aguilar in the primary election, as well as newcomer Janene Yazzie. Lovejoy beat Becenti-Aguilar in 2014 during the primary election and ran unopposed in the general election.

Both Lovejoy and Yazzie face questions about their campaign after third-quarter primary election campaign finance reports were filed this week. The reports cover contributions and expenditures for May 8-29.

Lovejoy and Becenti-Aguilar trail Yazzie in funds raised and spent. Throughout the first three primary reporting periods, Yazzie has raised about $24,950 and spent more than $19,130. Lovejoy has raised nearly $11,550 and has spent nearly $8,420. Becenti-Aguilar has raised about $3,800 and has spent less than $1,680.

Lovejoy accepted funds from Affordable Solar

While the third-quarter campaign finance reports were submitted this week, donations that were made in March to Lovejoy led New Energy Economy —  a nonprofit organization that focuses on issues such as renewable energy — to file a motion that would require Lovejoy to recuse herself from participating in ongoing commission proceedings involving a solar facility that El Paso Electric is hoping to construct. El Paso Electric plans to contract with Affordable Solar for the array.

Lovejoy received several donations from Affordable Solar, a company that builds solar arrays. She received $500 from Affordable Solar City, $500 from Affordable Solar Installation Inc. and $500 from Affordable Solar Group. The addresses for all three contributions are the same. Lovejoy said the PRC does not regulate solar companies.

Lovejoy said she did not ask Affordable Solar or other donors for contributions, and she hesitated to deposit the checks because she remembered seeing the name Affordable Solar in a PRC case.

But she said she received legal advice that assured her it would not violate any campaign rules if she accepted the money.

“I believe I did the right thing,” she said.

Complaint filed against New Energy Economy

On Wednesday, a complaint was filed with the Internal Revenue Service and the state Office of the Attorney General alleging that New Energy Economy and its executive director Mariel Nanasi have violated a prohibition that keeps nonprofit organizations from participating in political campaigns, including making public statements supporting or opposing a candidate.

According to a press release from the campaign of Public Regulation Commissioner Sandy Jones, the individual who filed the complaint, Nanasi has contributed $16,350 to candidates and political action committees since 2012. The press release cites a $10,000 contribution made to the political action committee Responsible Leadership NM, which has paid for advertisements against Jones and Lovejoy. Jones is up for re-election for her District 5 seat and also has accepted money from Affordable Solar.

“New Energy Economy is not engaged in electioneering, period,” Nanasi said when reached by phone this afternoon.

New Energy Economy could lose its tax-exempt status if it is determined that it violated the prohibition.

Yazzie’s eligibility questioned in campaign ad from PAC

Yazzie’s campaign sent out a press release today responding to a campaign mailer that was sent this week by the political action committee New Mexicans for Progress. The mailer questions her eligibility to run for the seat on the PRC based on her voter registration on the Navajo Nation.

The press release states Navajo voters register to vote in the Navajo Nation in the location of their parents. Yazzie is registered to vote in the Tse Si Ani Chapter, which is located in Arizona.

But Yazzie lives in Gallup, according to the press release.

New Mexicans for Progress has received $440,000 in donations from PNM Resources Inc., which owns the Public Service Company of New Mexico.

Becenti-Aguilar hopes to retake seat on PRC

Becenti-Aguilar hopes to retake the PRC seat she lost to Lovejoy during the primary election in 2014.

She said Lovejoy won using $59,000 of public campaign financing. In 2003, the state Legislature passed a law that allowed candidates to fund their campaigns through public money. The law was intended to create a level playing field for candidates and remove the influence of money contributions.

This year, Lovejoy said she is raising her own campaign money and is not relying on public financing.

While Becenti-Aguilar said the money played a role in the 2014 election, she does not think it will determine the results of this year’s election.

“This is a brand-new election,” she said. “Far too long people did not speak up about what is really going on.” 

A Utah-based energy company that is interested in geothermal development in New Mexico is one of the seven contributors to Lovejoy’s campaign during the third primary reporting period. CYRQ Energy Inc. donated the maximum $500 to Lovejoy’s campaign.

Lovejoy said she has not met anyone from the company and is unfamiliar with what it does. She said she believes CYRQ Energy likely evaluated her record as a commissioner and how she debates issues when it chose to support her.

“I’ve always felt that how much you raise is not really important,” Lovejoy said, explaining that the important part of a campaign is being visible in the community.

Becenti-Aguilar reported an in-kind contribution of $372.36 from a computer programmer as well as more than $2,800 in loans from herself as the only contributions to her campaign during the third primary reporting period.

She did not report any campaign contributions during the second primary reporting period, but she received two $500 donations during the first period from Cochiti Pueblo and the Pueblo of Isleta.

Becenti-Aguilar served on the PRC from July 2010 until December 2014.

Yazzie has raised the most money in the race

Yazzie raised more than $14,600 in the third primary reporting period. Those donations ranged in size from $5 to $500.

“In any type of campaign, being able to raise the money you need to get your message out is really important,” Yazzie said.

She said she thinks her track record as a grassroots community organizer and human rights activist have led people to support her.

 “I really think that people are thirsty for a different type of politics and a different type of leader,” she said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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