Friday, April 28, 2006

HOW "ONE-DAY" STORIES LIVE ON

I wrote a sidebar for Andy Lenderman's story in today's New Mexican concerning Jan Goodwin's testimony at the Robert Vigil trial Thursday. My piece deals with the likely political fallout of that testimony.


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
April 28, 2006

Testimony in former state Treasurer Robert Vigil’s corruption trial Thursday that state finance officials wrote a letter four years ago asking Attorney General Patricia Madrid to investigate possible wrongdoing in Vigil’s office is a “one-day story for the average reader,” a prominent New Mexico pollster says.


But such a story is likely to enjoy a longer second life in the form of unceasing campaign ads directed against Democrat Madrid’s bid to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, pollster Brian Sanderoff added in an interview Thursday.


“We know it’s going to be a negative, nasty campaign on the part of both sides, given the history of recent elections in the First Congressional District,” Sanderoff said. “Political opponents normally try to capitalize on the perceived weaknesses of their opponents.”

Jan Goodwin, who was director of the Board of Finance in 2002, testified Thursday that she wrote a letter to Madrid on behalf of the board, calling for an investigation of an apparent violation of the state’s procurement code.

The alleged violation was related to the hiring of California investment adviser Kent Nelson — a key figure in the alleged kickback scheme that ultimately resulted in 28 federal charges against Vigil and the guilty plea of a previous former treasurer, Michael Montoya.

“A letter makes a great graphic in a negative TV ad,” Sanderoff said.

However, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office said Madrid never received the letter and called the document Goodwin testified about a “draft.”

But well before Goodwin’s testimony, state Republicans persistently have been accusing Madrid of turning a blind eye to corruption in state government for years.

On Sept. 22 — less than a week after Vigil and Montoya were charged — the state GOP issued a news release criticizing Madrid for not investigating the Treasurer’s Office. That basic statement has been repeated by the GOP ever since.

Marta Kramer, executive director of the state GOP, said Thursday that Madrid’s failure to investigate the Treasurer’s Office will certainly be the thrust of campaign ads this season.


“The Republicans will continue to expose the conflicts of interest and the record of Patsy Madrid,” Kramer said. “It’s our job to point out her record. She didn’t have the will to investigate her friends and colleagues.”

Publicly, the Madrid campaign claims such allegations will have no affect on the campaign. “The attorney general has worked with the federal prosecutors,” campaign spokeswoman Heather Brewer said. “She indicted one of the key people in the scandal, Angelo Garcia.”

Shortly before Vigil and Montoya were charged, Garcia was indicted in state court in a fraud case alleging he and two partners cheated elderly people out of more than $900,000 in an alleged real-estate scam. Garcia, who has admitted to being a middleman in the alleged Montoya/Vigil kickback scheme, has pleaded guilty to federal charges and agreed to testify against Vigil.

The Madrid campaign has steadfastly blasted Wilson for taking campaign contributions from former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who stepped down after being indicted in Texas on charges of conspiracy to violate election laws.

Since her first election in 1998, Wilson received nearly $47,000 from DeLay’s political-action committee. Last year, she returned the $10,000 she’d collected from DeLay’s political-action committee in June — but not the $36,959 she received from the PAC between 1998 and 2003. Wilson campaign officials have said she won’t return that money.

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