Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Roundhouse Roundup: Passing the Bucks

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
April 29, 2010

Gov. Bill Richardson’s now defunct charitable foundation, which has been criticized for refusing to reveal who contributed the $1.7 million the foundation raised in its heyday, gave its last $20,000 to an Albuquerque nonprofit group that’s also been criticized for refusing to disclose its full list of contributors.

According to filings with the Internal Revenue Service late last year, Richardson’s Moving America Forward Foundation made a grant of $20,000 sometime in 2008 for a “non-partisan voter-registration” program by the Center for Civic Policy.

The foundation surfaced as a target last year in whistle-blower Frank Foy’s suit claiming political pressure from the Richardson administration resulted in the state making $90 million in bad investments with a Chicago firm.
In a motion filed last year, Foy’s lawyer, Victor Marshall, claimed it “was used as a conduit for making kickbacks” and that “donors used the foundation to launder kickbacks and other illegal inducements in exchange for investment business or other valuable consideration from the Richardson administration, while perhaps making kickbacks tax deductible in the process.”

A foundation lawyer last year called the motion “an irresponsible publicity stunt” and said none of the defendants or other people mentioned in Foy’s lawsuit ever contributed to the foundation.
Marshall said Wednesday that he never has received any of the MAFF’s documents, including contributors. The judge in the case has never ruled on the foundation’s objections, he said.

Marshall has done legal work for The New Mexican.

The Center for Civic Policy and other nonprofits engaged in a “voter education” project that evoked howls from some state lawmakers.

Before the 2008 primary, the nonprofits produced full-color mailers attacking several state lawmakers’ records on ethics reform and pointing out large contributions from corporations and lobbyists.
Sen. Shannon Robinson
Among those on the receiving end of the attacks were Sens. Shannon Robinson (pictured left) and James Taylor and Rep. Dan Silva — all Albuquerque Democrats. All three lost in the primary. Robinson in particular blamed the center for his defeat, saying it was unfair that the groups didn’t have to name their contributors.

Attorney General Gary King agreed that the center and the other nonprofits should have to disclose their contributors and took the case to federal court. However, Judge Judith Herrera last year ruled in favor of the nonprofits. King has appealed the case, which is still pending.

Ironically, even though the foundation donated to CCP for the registration drive, Richardson’s campaign fund that year donated to the unsuccessful campaigns of the three incumbents — $5,000 each to Robinson and Taylor, $2,000 to Silva.

The center’s chief executive officer Matt Brix on Wednesday confirmed the grant. He said it was not connected to the “voter education” program to which the defeated legislators objected.

There is no date for the grant listed in the IRS documents. However, records included in the filing indicate that the foundation’s directors met June 12, 2008 — which was after the primary — and voted to allow its consultant, Amanda Cooper (who was also deputy campaign manager for Richardson’s presidential campaign), to disburse the rest of the foundation’s funds to a nonprofit.

According to the foundation’s final 990 report, the group had $27,624 in the bank at the end of 2007. MAFF’s only other expenditures reported were $7,287 on accounting fees and $337 for banking fees and computer depreciation.

In December 2008, the state Public Regulation Commission accepted the dissolution of Moving America Forward Foundation.