Thursday, September 13, 2007

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: MORE PARTIES, MORE PALS

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
September 14, 2007

RICHARDSON IN CONCORD
Only weeks after the controversy that ensued after longtime Gov. Bill Richardson pal and campaign contributor Gerald Peters held a fundraiser for Richardson’s presidential campaign while negotiating a state contract, another longtime Richardson pal and campaign contributor is hosting a fundraiser for Richardson’s presidential campaign.

This time, the longtime pal is Paul Blanchard, whose business interests include racetracks in Albuquerque and Hobbs. The fundraiser is scheduled for Sept. 21 at Blanchard’s home in Albuquerque.

Blanchard, who leases The Downs at Albuquerque from the state, this year applied to move the operation to a 500-acre site in Moriarity. There he’d build a one-mile oval racetrack, 22 barns, horse-breeding farms with training facilities, a casino, a hotel, a food court and a truck stop. The estimated cost of the project is $65 million.

Julian Luna, executive director of the state Racing Commission, confirmed Wednesday that the proposal is still pending.

Asked about the fundraiser, Richardson campaign spokesman Tom Reynolds said, “At all times and without exception, Governor Richardson makes decisions and acts only in the best interest of New Mexico. Contributions or support of any kind have no effect on decisions made by state agencies or the Governor’s Office.”

That’s basically the same answer given by Richardson and other spokesmen last month when asked about the Peters fundraiser.

Blanchard couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.

The Peters event was held at his home in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in August. At the time, a Peters company was negotiating with the state over a contract to build a new Department of Transportation headquarters in Santa Fe. After controversy erupted in the newspapers, Richardson’s office announced the state would re-bid the project.

Blanchard’s contributions: Richardson and Blanchard have been friends for years. Blanchard is included in the dedication of Richardson’s autobiography Between Worlds.

Richardson appointed Blanchard to the state Board of Finance during the governor’s first term and to the state Investment Council for the current term.

The racetrack owner served as Richardson’s finance chairman in his 2002 campaign. In addition to raising cash, Blanchard, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, donated $10,000. His wife, Kandace Blanchard, gave another $10,000 in 2002, while The Downs at Albuquerque contributed $100,000.

In 2006, Blanchard contributed $80,000 to Richardson’s re-election. His Zia Park operation in Hobbs gave $37,500, while The Downs at Albuquerque contributed $36,000.

In the presidential race, both Paul and Kandace Blanchard have donated $2,300, which is the maximum contribution allowed for the primary season under federal law. That’s also reportedly the suggested amount to contribute at next week’s fundraiser.

Not one, but two fundraisers: Political blogger Joe Monahan reported this week that in addition to the Blanchard event Sept. 21, Richardson also will be attending a less exclusive fundraiser in Albuquerque at which the admission cost is a mere $25.

I wonder which party attracts more people who have or who want state contracts.

Cover Boy: Guess whose smiling face graces the cover of the September issue of Accent Albuquerque magazine. None other than former state Senate juggernaut Manny Aragon.

This is surprising because Aragon has been lying low in recent months, following his indictment on federal corruption charges in the Albuquerque Metropolitan Courthouse scandal.

Aragon apparently talked with the magazine, going a little beyond the brusque statement he gave reporters the last time I saw him, in April at the federal courthouse in Albuquerque.

“Those of you who were in the courtroom know that I have pleaded not guilty,” he said then. “I have only one further statement. I am completely innocent.”

In Accent Albuquerque, Aragon refers to the fact his case was the investigation that last year spurred Sen. Pete Domenici and U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, both Republicans from New Mexico to call U.S. Attorney David Iglesias. Iglesias later said he felt pressured to file charges against Aragon and others before last November’s election. This, many say, would have helped Wilson’s tight re-election race.

But the charges weren’t filed until this year, several months after Iglesias was fired by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Iglesias was one of eight U.S. attorneys fired allegedly for political reasons.

“I’m somewhat disheartened that the FBI took the unheard of step of saying that they had completed their investigation in the news media shortly before U.S. Attorney David Iglesias was pressured by Republican political figures to indict me,” Aragon told the magazine. “I think the U.S. attorney wasn’t acting earlier because they had no case. I believe the FBI and U.S. attorney may have received political pressure.”

Aragon also was quoted saying, “Every single billing at metro court had been justified as far as I can tell. They should have looked at this case a lot closer.”

Aragon and others indicted are accused of skimming more than $4 million from the state by padding invoices.

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