Monday, December 15, 2008

Uh Oh: Pay for Play in New Mexico?

Add Bill Richardson as another headache for Mr. Transparency.
A federal grand jury is investigating how a company that advised Jefferson County, Alabama, on bond deals that threaten to cause the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, did similar work in New Mexico after making contributions to Governor Bill Richardson’s political action committees.

The grand jury in Albuquerque is looking into Beverly Hills, California-based CDR Financial Products Inc., which received almost $1.5 million in fees from the New Mexico Finance Authority in 2004 after donating $100,000 to Richardson’s efforts to register Hispanic and American Indian voters and pay for expenses at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, people familiar with the matter said.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation asked current and former officials from the state agency if any staff members in the governor’s office influenced CDR’s hiring, said the people, who declined to be identified because the proceedings are secret. Richardson, who is President-elect Barack Obama’s designate for Commerce Secretary, has a staff of at least 30 people.

“They’re looking at everything related to CDR,” William Sisneros, the finance agency’s chief executive officer, said of the FBI probe. “They’re just trying to evaluate all the relationships to see what CDR was doing for the money.”

The investigation reflects another front in nationwide efforts by U.S. prosecutors to investigate so-called pay-to-play in the municipal bond market. The term refers to banks and advisers who make political contributions or personal gifts to public officials in return for fee-paying financing assignments.
Naturally, any hint of pay for play is vociferously denied.
A company spokesman denied wrongdoing in New Mexico.

“To suggest that there’s a pay for play element is just inaccurate,” said CDR’s Allan Ripp. “There was no involvement by the governor. CDR knows for certain that they were selected on the basis of their track record.”

New Mexico finance authority officials haven’t complained about the company’s advisory work.

Richardson, a 61-year-old Democrat, is a former U.S. Energy Secretary who ran for president in 2008. He served 15 years in Congress and was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 1997-98. He was a consultant to Salomon Smith Barney Inc., a unit of New York-based Citigroup Inc., from July 2001 to January 2003.

Elected New Mexico’s governor in 2002 and re-elected in 2006, Richardson appoints five directors to the New Mexico Finance Authority’s 12-member board, including the chairman. Five other directors are members of his cabinet.
Using the longheld standard of Democrats, I suggest that any appearance of impropriety warrants a federal investigation. After all, we can't have a double standard, can we?

Isn't it all about transparency these days?

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