The chairman of the Republican Party of New Mexico said yesterday he was approached by a GOP figure who asked him to offer the state Green Party at least $100,000 to run candidates in two contested congressional districts in an effort to divide the Democratic vote.
"I was asked to inform the Green Party" that if the party filed candidates in New Mexico's 1st and 2nd congressional districts, it would get paid in "the six-figure range," said John Dendahl.
Dendahl refused to identify the person who made the offer except to say it was a man based in Washington with apparent ties to the Republican Party. Dendahl said he conveyed the offer to officials of the Green Party, who initially showed some interest but ultimately rejected it.
"It was a proposal of substance," said Dendahl, who has been party chair for eight years and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1994. He said he promised the person making the offer to keep his identity secret until the actual contribution to the Green Party was made.
Rep. Heather A. Wilson, the Republican incumbent in the state's 1st District, is seeking reelection and is expected to face a stiff Democratic challenge. In the 2nd District, Republican Rep. Joe Skeen is retiring. Newly redrawn lines in the district, which covers the mostly rural southern half of the state, have made it more competitive.
Just as Democrats in 2000 charged that the Green Party presidential bid of Ralph Nader siphoned enough votes from Al Gore to give George W. Bush the presidency, Democrats in New Mexico claim the Greens have helped Wilson win the past two elections.
In 1998, Wilson won both a special election and a general election, each time carrying less than 50 percent of the vote. A Green Party candidate gained 15 percent in the special election and 10 percent in the general election. In 2000, New Mexico Democrats charged that some Wilson campaign workers changed their registration to the Green Party to help produce enough write-in votes to get a Green candidate on the general election ballot.
Dendahl, in an interview, described the person making the $100,000 offer as "a Republican figure" but "not somebody I was acquainted with." He said he does not believe the person works for the Republican National Committee because he is familiar with everyone there who would have the authority to make such an offer.
The disclosure by Dendahl, who is a respected figure among Democrats and Republicans in New Mexico, took top GOP officials in Washington by surprise.
James Dyke, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, called Dendahl after being asked about the claim. Dyke said he did not learn who made the offer, but, Dyke said, it was "not anyone from the White House nor the RNC."
Anne Womack, a White House spokeswoman, said "no one here is aware of anything like" the claim made by Dendahl. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (Va.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Dendahl's comments were news to him.
The Dendahl offer to the Green Party became public July 6, when the Greens passed a resolution declaring the party was "Not For Sale," saying they had been offered the money. Albuquerque television station KRQE on Wednesday first reported that Dendahl acknowledged making the offer.
The Greens' statement said the party will "not be used as a support group for the Democratic Party nor as a battering ram for the Republican Party. We disavow and condemn any attempts to manipulate or use New Mexico voters as pawns in the game of politics as usual."
Dendahl said Green Party officials initially showed interest in the donation, which, Dendahl pointed out, the Green Party's gubernatorial candidate could have used because state law does not set limits on donations, nor does it prohibit contributions from corporations or unions.