Ex-CIA operative Plame's House bid gets many small donors

Thousands of small campaign contributions from undisclosed sources have propelled former CIA operative Valerie Plame to the financial lead in a crowded primary competition for an open New Mexico congressional seat in 2020

SANTA FE, N.M. -- Thousands of small campaign contributions have helped propelled former CIA operative and author Valerie Plame to the financial lead in a crowded primary competition for an open New Mexico congressional seat in 2020.

The Democrat raised $236,000 in May and June, with nearly 3,700 donations from people who gave less than $200, according to disclosure forms and a statement from the campaign. Federal regulators do not require candidates to disclose the source of contributions under $200, although sources of small contributions are expected to be publicly reported later this month by ActBlue, the maker of automated campaign fundraising software used by many Democrats.

Among the notable donors were actor Bryan Cranston of "Breaking Bad" and Naomi Watts, who portrayed Plame in the 2010 film about her involvement in political jousting at the start of the Iraq War under President George W. Bush.

Competing Democratic candidate Marco Serna, a Santa Fe-based district attorney who comes from a prominent New Mexico political family, raised $233,000 during the quarter ending June 30. Teresa Leger Fernandez, an attorney active on voting rights and Native American autonomy issues, reported contributions of $193,000.

Small, non-itemized contributions accounted for about $3,400 of Serna's tally and $23,000 for Leger Fernandez — versus $76,000 for Plame.

The Democratic nomination is likely to be decisive in a district where registered Republicans are outnumbered nearly 2-1.

Rivals accused Plame, who lives in Santa Fe, of attempting to conceal campaign contributions from out-of-state donors. "She hid where 90% of her campaign contributions came from by not listing them," said Serna's brother and campaign spokesman, JonCarlo Serna. "She needs to come clean."

Plame spokesman Daniel Garcia said the number of campaign contributors is evidence of "broad political support from everyday people."

In a field of eight primary contenders, Plame is the only national figure. Her identity as a CIA operative was leaked by an official in President George W. Bush's administration in an effort to discredit her then-husband, diplomat Joe Wilson, a critic of the war in Iraq.

She parlayed the experience into a career as an author, media commentator and public speaker on nuclear and cybersecurity issues. This is her first political campaign.

An aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was convicted of obstruction of justice and lying to investigators following the 2003 leak of Plame's identity. He was since pardoned by President Donald Trump.

New Mexico's 3rd Congressional District spans heavily Hispanic and Native American northern New Mexico and has been a stepping stone for prominent Democrats including Sen. Tom Udall and ex-Gov. Bill Richardson, who went on to become a Cabinet secretary and United Nations ambassador.

Incumbent Rep. Ben Ray Luján — the No. 4 Democrat in the House leadership — is running to replace the retiring Udall in the Senate next year.

Plame says she is refusing direct contributions from corporations — while highlighting a donation to Serna's campaign from the region's main for-profit electrical utility.

Candidates in the race have yet to appear at debates or forums as they have outlined proposals for addressing high rates of poverty, an opioid epidemic and environmental protection concerns.

Democratic state Rep. Joseph Sanchez of Alcalde raised a modest $43,500 in congressional campaign cash, including contributions from the Republican mayor of Española and the casino-operating Ohkay Owingeh tribe.