Thursday, April 27, 2006


As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
April 27, 2006

Did the payday-loan industry pay for another trip for the governor that the media haven’t reported yet?

According to the Democratic Governors Association’s most recent contribution-and-expenditure report, filed earlier this month, Advance America, the nation’s largest payday-loan company, made an in-kind travel contribution valued at $2,352 to the DGA on Feb. 5.

The next day, Richardson — who is chairman of the DGA — gave the keynote address at the Emergency Issues Conference at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, the governor’s office said in a news release.

From there, Richardson traveled to Washington to participate in a news conference with Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm to discuss how President Bush’s budget proposals affects their states.

The governor’s office said at the time that the DGA was paying for Richardson’s trip.
The DGA’s report, which is filed with the Internal Revenue Service, didn’t list any other travel expenses or contributions for those days.

In a copyrighted story three weeks ago, the Albuquerque Journal reported that Advance America last year made at least six in-kind travel contributions totaling nearly $17,000 to the DGA. At least some of the dates of the earlier contributions coincide with Richardson travel.

In early February, the state Legislature, then in session, was considering a Richardson-backed payday-loan bill that some critics — including consumer advocates and Attorney General Patricia Madrid — criticized as being industry friendly.

The bill died on the Senate floor as the result of a threatened filibuster.

Advance America operates at least 10 offices in New Mexico, though none in Santa Fe.

On Feb. 24, Advance America contributed another $10,000 to the Democratic Governors Association, bringing its total for the year so far to $12,352.

Efforts to reach Richardson spokesman Pahl Shipley were unsuccessful.

Speaking of trips to Washington: Times have changed in our nation’s capital since the last time I was there.

I went to Washington, D.C., last weekend for a friend’s wedding. One of the first things I saw in the airport after landing was a souvenir store that prominently displayed a bunch of funny products aimed directly at the president of these United States.

The store, called America! (motto: “Products for the Patriotic Soul”), had T-shirts and bumper stickers featuring the famous open-mouthed face from Edvard Munch’s The Scream with the message “Bush. 3 More Years!”

Other anti-Bush products there greeted the visitors: T-shirts saying “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for Kerry” and “I Can’t Wait For 2008.”

No, that last one didn’t show the smiling face of Gov. Bill Richardson, who adopted that ominous message for a graphic featuring his likeness used in recent mass e-mails for the Democratic Governors Association.

Up by the cash register, impulse shoppers can buy politically charged candy in colorful tins. There’s Indictmints, ($3.99 for a 4-ounce tin) that feature a picture of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s indicted former chief of staff; U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who is facing charges stemming from a 2002 state legislative race; Karl Rove, President Bush’s top political adviser who made his fifth appearance Wednesday before a CIA-leak grand jury; and Cheney sitting in a cell in prison stripes. And there’s also National Embarassmints (same price) showing the prez with a bag of money in one hand, a Bible in the other and a pistol at his side. (I guess they were out of Impeachmints, which are advertised on the store’s Web site.)

All this in an airport named for Ronald Reagan.

In fairness, the online catalog for America! shows a more even-handed inventory. For instance, there are bumper stickers that say. “Run, Hillary, Run (For use on front bumper only).” They just weren’t quite as eye-catching as the anti-Bush souvenirs.

This store contrasted sharply with any D.C. souvenir stand I saw on my previous visit. Back in the summer of 2002 — less than a year after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — the button and bumper-sticker trade was far more subdued. About the only souvenir I bought then was a refrigerator magnet featuring the Bush twins.

Tainted bucks: Last week, this column reported the rush by many politicians to give to charity their campaign contributions from Guy Riordan, whose name came up last week in testimony at the trial of former state Treasurer Robert Vigil.

Former Treasurer Michael Montoya, who has pleaded guilty to a count of extortion, said under oath that Riordan — an investor/broker/game-park operator/Richardson buddy — paid him kickbacks, sometimes in restroom stalls. Riordan’s lawyer denies it, and Riordan hasn’t been charged with any crime.

I still haven’t heard from Gary King, who is running for attorney general. King, running for Congress in 2004, received $500 from Riordan. King hasn’t responded to phone calls.

Terry Brunner, campaign manager for U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said last week the senator probably wouldn’t return a $1,000 Riordan contribution from 1994.

And Eric Serna — who has a lot of recent problems of his own — told a reporter Wednesday that he “might consider” giving up the $250 he got from Riordan for his 1997 Congressional race. “I don’t even recall receiving it,” he said.

Serna currently is on administrative leave as state insurance commissioner while the attorney general investigates his dealings with Century Bank.

Reporter David Miles contributed to this column.

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