Thursday, August 09, 2007


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
August 9, 2007

Last year when Gov. Bill Richardson was running for re-election, he took some criticism for collecting contributions from several controversial companies doing business with the state and/or trying to influence legislation in New Mexico.

These included contributions to his re-election campaign as well as donations — both money and corporate-jet rides — to the Democratic Governors Association, which Richardson chaired for two years and frequently used to arrange and pay for out-of-state travel.

Some of those companies, or at least important people who work for them, are showing up in Richardson’s presidential campaign finance reports.

Advance America, the nation’s largest payday loan company, which operates at least 10 offices in New Mexico, loaned its jet to the DGA for at least seven trips in 2005 and 2006. These trips had a total reported value of nearly $20,000. The company, which was fighting tougher payday loan restrictions in this state, also donated $10,000 to the DGA last year and $1,750 to Richardson’s re-election.

This year, William Webster, chief executive officer of Advance America, donated $4,600 to Richardson’s presidential campaign, the maximum amount allowed by federal law. (Individuals are allowed to contribute a maximum of $2,300 for use in the presidential primary season and $2,300 for use in the general election.) Richardson is the only presidential candidate to receive contributions from Advance America employees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Last year, the Florida-based GEO Group — which operates private prisons in New Mexico — contributed more than $40,00 to Richardson’s re-election, plus another $8,000 to Richardson's running mate, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish. The company and its board chairman George Zoley kicked in another $15,000 for Richardson’s January inauguration.

According to The Institute of Money in State Politics, Richardson received more money from GEO than did any other politician nationwide running for state office in 2006.

GEO also has contributed to the governor’s presidential run. The company’s political action gave Richardson $5,000. GEO employees have kicked in another $9,000, including $1,000 from chief operating officer Wayne Calabrese.

But Richardson isn’t the only presidential contender to get cash from the private prison company. According to a midyear report filed this week by GEO’s Political Action Committee, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York also got $5,000 from the PAC.

Then there’s UST, which stands for United States Tobacco, a company that specializes in “smokeless” tobacco and manufactures Skoal and Copenhagen snuff.

The company donated its jet to the DGA for Richardson’s out-of-state trips during his tenure as chairman. Last year, UST contributed at least $25,000 plus $8,874 for “in-kind travel” to Richardson’s re-election. The company has lobbied the Legislature to change the way smokeless tobacco is taxed in the state.

Murray Kessler, who listed his occupation as an executive with UST, gave Richardson $1,000 for his presidential run.

But that’s it. So far UST seems to prefer Democratic rival U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, who as received $22,000 from UST employees.

In fact, Richardson isn’t doing very well at all with tobacco money, smokeless or otherwise.

Kessler’s is Richardson’s only listed contribution from a tobacco company employee. Dodd is leading the smoke pack with more than $45,000 in money from tobacco company employees.

Love them lobbyists: Although former U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois have attacked Clinton for refusing to reject contributions from lobbyists, Richardson has gone on record defending her, telling The Politico the issue was “overblown.”

According to the CRP, Richardson is fourth among Democrats for contributions from lobbyists.

He’s received $67,400 from those who list lobbyist as their occupation. Clinton is way out in front with more than $413,00, though Richardson also trails Joe Biden and Dodd in this area.

But the ones making the attacks aren’t entirely pure. Obama has accepted about $60,000 from lobbyists, while Edwards has received more than $10,000 according to the CRP.

Ponying up for the boss: Of course no company has been more loyal to Richardson than his own — New Mexico’s state government.

Wonkette, that rascally D.C. “politics for people with dirty minds” blog, made this comment Tuesday on a Washington Post story about campaign contribution “bundling.”

“Yes, as the candidates’ lust for cash grows all-consuming, more and more pressure is being put on big donors to become ‘bundlers,’ a polite term for someone who strong-arms people whom they employ or otherwise hold power over to cough up cash for candidates they probably don’t like. It works even better if the candidate is your boss — Bill Richardson has convinced 274 employees of the New Mexico state government to pony up!”
According to the CRP, Richardson has raised at least $244,730 from state workers. (The Associated Press had that number at more than $270,000 even before the most recent campaign finance report.)

Of course, Richardson campaign and the Governor’s Office spokesmen insist there’s no pressure on state employees to contribute to Richardson. And state employees I’ve talked to said there’s no pressure to contribute. And I assume if I asked them, they’d say there’s no pressure to tell nosey journalists there’s no pressure.

Indeed, nobody has been fired for contributing to any other candidate. Of course, there’s no record of any employee of any state office under the governor contributing to any other candidate.

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