Records detail charitable giving of N.M. governor hopeful Pearce
A lot of politicians look like politicians because they can afford to. They wear impeccable suits and have a sheen like characters on television.
Steve Pearce, though, is unassuming. The Republican nominee for New Mexico governor, he has a wardrobe that is not flashy. He speaks in a steady, deliberate drawl.
The former Air Force pilot and veteran of the war in Vietnam made a fortune in the oilfield services industry. He has ranked among the wealthiest members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
And Pearce has used part of his fortune to finance a foundation supporting everything from community theater and services for child abuse victims to anti-abortion groups and legal organizations fighting LGBT rights.
A review of publicly available tax filings from the congressman’s foundation offer a glimpse into the day-to-day community engagement of a Republican who has campaigned at once as a self-made businessman, as a man who never forgot his roots in a hardscrabble part of the Southwest and as a conservative Christian more involved in social issues than the current GOP governor, Susana Martinez.
Ahead of the primary elections, The New Mexican asked the three Democrats running for governor and Pearce — the lone Republican — to turn over recent tax returns on the premise that such transparency would help voters understand how candidates have earned, invested and donated their money.
Democratic nominee Michelle Lujan Grisham eventually posted five years’ worth of tax returns on her website.
Pearce has not yet released any such filings.
But tax records for the foundation he created with his wife, the Stevan and Cynthia Pearce Charitable Foundation, are publicly available.
The foundation donated more than $1.3 million from 2001 through September 2017, according to IRS filings.
The foundation’s contributions fall into three major groups: contributions to socially conservative advocacy organizations, donations to churches and other religious groups, and gifts to local philanthropic causes.
Perhaps most controversial are the foundation’s gifts to a group known as Liberty Counsel totaling $22,000.
The Florida-based group is critical of homosexuality and has supported laws that allow discrimination against LGBT people.
Several years after Pearce’s foundation last donated to the organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center labeled it a hate group.
Liberty Counsel has vehemently rejected that label, contending it merely supports religious freedom.
The foundation made two $500 donations over several years to the Institute for Creation Research, which promotes the theory that Earth is only a few thousand years old.
The Pearce family’s foundation also donated tens of thousands of dollars to Traditional Values Action, which describes itself as “informing New Mexico citizens about proposed state and federal legislation impacting the sanctity of life, marriage and family.”
Additionally, the foundation donated thousands of dollars to crisis pregnancy centers around Southern New Mexico, which promote alternatives to abortion but also have been criticized generally as promoting misinformation.
However, most of the foundation’s contributions in the seven-year period went to religious organizations.
Pearce’s foundation donated $300,000 to the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., for example, which opened last year as one of the largest museums in the nation’s capital. The project met with skepticism from the start, with critics arguing it excluded some religious traditions or did not include enough on Jesus.
Last year, federal officials said Hobby Lobby, the company owned by the museum’s most public benefactor, had accumulated a collection of smuggled artifacts. But reviews generally say the museum has avoided evangelizing or wading into sectarian issues.
The Pearce family’s foundation also gave $10,000 annually for at least seven years to Access Partners, which supports Christian missionaries.
Back in Pearce’s district, the congressman’s foundation gave nearly $150,000 over five years to Taylor Memorial Baptist Church in the congressman’s hometown of Hobbs. The foundation also gave nearly $63,000 over the same period to Veritas Classical Christian Academy, a religious school in Hobbs.
The foundation gave to local organizations, too, providing thousands of dollars for New Mexico State University, the Southwest Museum of Art and Antiquities, and the Apple Tree Education Center, an early childhood education center in Truth or Consequences.
The family gave $35,000 over the seven-year period to My Power Inc., a program in Hobbs that describes itself as working to “help empower girls in grades 5-9 to successfully navigate the teen years by empowering them to make wise choices, set goals, succeed academically, and avoid risky sexual behavior and teen pregnancy.” Specifically, the organization promotes what is known as “abstinence plus” education.
And there were odds-and-ends donations typical of living in a small community — $250 to the Carlsbad High School choir one year and $1,500 another year to a Veterans of Foreign Wars post.
A Vietnam War veteran, donations by Pearce’s foundation point both to his role as roustabout’s son made good and as a socially conservative Republican lawmaker.
The tax filings reviewed by The New Mexican show only donations from Pearce’s own businesses, not outside donors.
Asked about his charitable giving, Kevin Sheridan, a spokesman for Pearce’s campaign said: “Cynthia and Steve Pearce are proud to be able to support an array of charities, and if Michelle Lujan Grisham and national Democrats want to attack people for supporting the Museum of the Bible, that says everything voters need to know about how hostile to Judeo-Christian values they have become.”
Of the four candidates whose named appeared on the ballot in the primary election, Lujan Grisham may well be the least affluent. She has spent most of her career in government and co-owned the private company that operates New Mexico’s health insurance program for patients with particularly expensive medical issues.
The Albuquerque congresswoman’s tax returns indicate she earned an average of $218,743 a year in adjusted gross income over the last five years and donated an average of $4,059 a year to charity during that time, much of that to Goodwill.
Follow Andrew Oxford on Twitter @andrewboxford.