Thursday, January 05, 2006

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: IT'S ALL IN THE CARDS

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
January 5, 2006


The holiday spirit lingers in New Mexico’s political world. Some folks are still talking about a surprise Christmas card they received from one political figure — resigned state Treasurer Robert Vigil.

The card shows the former treasurer surrounded by his family and offers “Seasons Greetings and best wishes for the New Year.”

But that’s the large print. The surprise was in the small print at the bottom of the card: “Paid for by Friends of Robert Vigil for State Treasurer.”

Vigil, before he was arrested on federal extortion charges in September, was busy raising money for a re-election bid. In fact after he was videotaped taking money in a car from an investment adviser, Vigil’s lawyer said this wasn’t a kickback but an honest campaign contribution (though it never showed up on any report).

Maybe he was just raising cash to spread some Christmas cheer.

A spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office said there’s no record of anyone picking up a campaign packet for a 2006 Robert Vigil campaign.

More late Christmas cards: Someone call Bill O’Reilly! The War on Christmas” is getting help from unexpected quarters.

Upon returning to work Tuesday I found a Christmas card from the Republican National Committee in my mail box. It showed a nice winter scene in front of the Lincoln Memorial, with a couple resembling Mr. and Mrs. Claus strolling arm and arm down the steps.

But the real shocker was inside. No, it didn’t say “Paid for by Friends of Robert Vigil.” It said “... we wish you a happy holiday season and joyful New Year.”

No mention of Christmas or Christ!

Friends of Jack: Congresswoman Heather Wilson of Albuquerque is the only incumbent New Mexico politician to have taken campaign contributions from convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The only other New Mexican to get cash directly from Abramoff was former Congressman Bill Redmond, a Republican who ran against U.S. Sen. Bingaman in 2000. Redmond, according to a study by the Washington, D.C. based Center for Responsive Politics, got $1,000 from the notorious lobbyist for that race.

However, several other political figures from this enchanted land have received contributions from Abramoff clients.

That can be largely explained by the fact that the list of those who hired Abramoff’s Greenberg Traurig firm to lobby Congress include two New Mexico Indian pueblos, Sandia and Santa Clara.

It probably could be argued that these pueblos, both of which operate casinos, would have been making campaign contributions any way.

The Pueblo of Sandia, according to the Associated Press, paid Abramoff’s firm more than $1 million to help the pueblo reclaim about 10,000 acres along the west face of the Sandia Mountains. Congress approved a settlement in 2003.

The Pueblo of Santa Clara paid Abramoff about $20,000 for lobbying in 2003, federal records show. But Santa Clara terminated its contract by the middle of 2004.

According to the CPR study, Wilson not only got the $1,000 from Abramoff in 2002 — a contribution that will be passed on to the Boy Scouts, according to a Wilson spokeswoman this week — she also took in $4,000 from Sandia Pueblo, half for her 2002 race, half for her current re-election effort.

Meanwhile, according to the CRP report, Sen. Pete Domenici got $2,750 from Santa Clara and $2,500 from Sandia in 2002.

But Republicans in New Mexico aren’t the only ones who got money from Abramoff clients.

The Democratic Party of New Mexico itself got a $5,000 contribution from Sandia Pueblo in 2002 and a $1,250 contribution for the current election cycle.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman received money from two gaming tribes that employed Abramoff — but not the ones from New Mexico. He got $2,000 from the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians of Palm Springs, Calif. for his current re-elections effort. In 2000 Bingaman received $1,000 from the Tigua Indian Reservation near El Paso. The Tiguas, whose casino shut down in 2002, say they were defrauded by Abramoff.

Unsuccessful Democratic candidates Gloria Tristani, who ran against Domenici in 2002, got $1,000 from Sandia Pueblo, while Richard Romero, who twice ran against Wilson and 2004, received $2,000 from Sandia in 2002 and $1,000 from Santa Clara in 2004.

Sandia Pueblo spent nearly $100,000 on candidates for state offices in 2002. More than $57,148 of that went to Gov. Bill Richardson’s campaign.

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