Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Mother's Milk of Politics: Richardson Style

California Speaker of the House and Jesse Unruh is credited with coining the phrase, "money is the mother's milk of politics," back in 1966, right after he and Ronald Reagan cut a deal to do away with open primaries. This move protected incumbent liberal Governor Pat Brown against the threat in his own party from Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty, a moderate Democrat, who ran against him that year hoping Republicans would cross over and vote for him, and it protected conservative Reagan from the danger of a moderate Republican primary opponent who might attract moderate Democrats. By "closing" the primaries against these threats, it meant smart money in each party would flow to Brown and Reagan, respectively. As it turned out both won their primaries and Reagan beat Brown in the general election. When reporters asked Unruh to explain the contradiction that he, a liberal Kennedy Democrat, would cut a deal with the most conservative Republican politician in California in a relatively undemocratic move, Unruh replied with his famous phrase.

Yes, politics is about determining who gets the milk, when, and how much.

But what happens when the milk turns sour?

So sour that access to profitable favors time and again is given to a small group of insiders, often at taxpayer expense?

New Mexicans are beginning to get a glimpse of the answer to this question as the Albuquerque Journal uncovers one outrage after another in the "pay-to-play" culture that reigned during the Richardson administration.

The latest outrage is reported this morning in the Albuquerque Journal by Thomas J. Cole. It seems Santa Fe contractor Sonny Otero was able to sell a 12 acre piece of property to the state (that is, to us, the taxpayers) for $5.9 million, $3.2 million more than he paid for the land 28 months earlier. And (are you surprised?) he also made a contribution of $50,000 to Richardson's re-election campaign two months after the sale closed in January 2006. The state has done nothing with the land ever since. As Coles puts it, "The state never needed the property, doesn't need it today and may never need it."

Yes, money is the mother's milk of politics, but when access to that milk comes to depend much too heavily on one's contributions to political campaigns, taxpayers are justified in their distrust of the motives behind the actions of state government officials across the board, and justified in their feeling taxpayer money is being wasted in ways that undermine our confidence in the integrity of state government.


Anonymous said...

Great story! Your blog is the only one in state that is willing to shed light on all the pay to play deals that have occurred under the Richardson years. The sad part is that he and his high paid staff will get away with it all, allowing others that follow him to do the same type of business here in New Mexico. Has there been any pay to play deals here in the border area of NM?

Anonymous said...

By GF Abq, 5-20-09

Is it possible that Governor Richardson clearly saw the benefits of giving high-paying jobs and board appointments to several key supporters at all levels of state government where they would have decision-making power for deals that would ultimately benefit his campaign? And is it conceivable that he insulated himself also? Not only would they do all the dirty work and broker the deals, they would ensure the “pay-to-play” master plan would yield results? No one knows for sure, but one could surmise that Richardson's style of politics has taken "pay-to-play" scheming to a whole new level with real results.

These scandals and investigations are undoubtedly causing worry and panic as numerous heavy-hitting lawyers have lined up for business with the governor and several of his cronies. Of course, we continue to hear disclaimers that anyone knew anything about these deals. (Does “plausible deniability” ring a bell?)

Finally, playing the ethical and trusted leader, Richardson decided to take action to terminate contracts with Aldus Equity Partners, and banned the use of third-party agents involved in state investment business. It seems it’s all a little too late to save face as this won’t stop the investigations nor quell the public outrage over these scandals.

The saddest things about the “pay-to-play” investigations smearing New Mexico across the country are the defrauding of the citizenry, and that no one has yet been charged or held accountable. That could be the final and most disgusting irony.

Jose Z. Garcia said...

One major pay to play deal involving the border area is the case of Earthstone International. According to the Rio Grande Foundation Richardson got the State Investment Council to loan them $9 million so Earthstone could build a 200,000 sq. ft. plant at Santa Teresa and a research center in Las Cruces. Seems that (are you surprised? the owners of Earthstone, Andrew and Gay Ungerleider, had contributed at least $25,000 to the campaigns of Richardson, the Democratic Party, and other candidates. The plant was never built, nor the research center, and the Ungerleider's have not repaid the $9 million.

GSal said...

At the rate of $9 million per $25,000--I should qualify for at least a million with a $3,000 donation. Who knew anyone could obtain such a rate of return on a little "investment." The sad part of the story is the Gov continues to play us all for fools and we continue to look like bumpkins to the rest of the country. Richardson and transparency are mutually exclusive. New Mexico political corruption is infamous, just ask my Texas kin!!