Richardson-Linked Probe Eyeing Governors Association

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February 3, 2009 5:42 a.m.
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Could the federal investigation of possible pay-to-play in New Mexico be turning its focus to a crucial Democratic political organization?

The probe, which derailed Bill Richardson’s bid to be Commerce Secretary, has largely focused on one investment firm, CDR Financial Products. That company won a contract from Governor Richardson’s administration to help manage the state’s bonds, around the same time that it contributed to two Richardson political committees, as well as to the Democratic Governors Association (DGA), of which Richardson was vice chair at the time. (He would become chair in 2005).

And now the Albuquerque Journal reports that three other firms that won contracts to manage the state’s bonds also contributed to the DGA, giving almost $500,000 around the time the transportation financing plan was being developed and finalized. Those firms are J.P. Morgan Securities, UBS Bank and RBC Dain Rauscher.

The paper adds:

Some of the donations were in cash, others were “in kind” services, such as catering.

The DGA describes itself on its website as a “political organization organized to support the candidacies of Democratic gubernatorial nominees and incumbents across the nation” and as “the united voice for America’s Democratic governors.” It has been a key stepping-stone to national prominence for some Dems, and its current chair, Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana, is seen as a rising star in the party.

Bloomberg recently reported that federal investigators, in addition to subpoenaing aides to Richardson and a banker with JP Morgan Chase, also asked for DGA correspondence records in connection with the probe.

The bond contract program, known as GRIP, appears to have quarterbacked by David Harris, the led the state’s financing authority at the time and had previously served as Richardson’s deputy chief of staff.

Reports the paper:

Harris organized the team of GRIP bond underwriters and advisers after the Legislature approved GRIP at a special session in November 2003, according to NMFA board meeting minutes.

Harris also helped plan the financing for GRIP and shepherded the transportation package through the Legislature.

Harris, who left the NMFA after the GRIP financing details were approved to become a University of New Mexico vice president, has declined comment. His lawyer says his client denies any wrongdoing.

Something tells us we haven’t heard the last of this.

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