Saturday, August 22, 2009

Democrat culture of corruption

New Mexico Roiled By Fresh Graft Case
Elected officials in New Mexico are renewing calls for an ethics overhaul after the state's attorney general this week unveiled the latest in a long string of political-corruption cases.
Longtime Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron, who left office in 2006, has been indicted on 50 felony counts of embezzlement, tax evasion and money laundering in an alleged scheme to siphon off at least hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal election funds.
Ms. Vigil-Giron, a Democrat who served three four-year terms as secretary of state, is accused of colluding with a political consultant and two Democratic lobbyists -- also under indictment -- to profit from grants intended to educate voters and boost turnout in the 2004 election.
The indictment alleges that the secretary of state deposited millions of dollars into the personal bank accounts of the political consultant and lobbyists based on fraudulent invoices they submitted. It also says she repeatedly and willfully prepared incorrect tax returns. The indictment doesn't spell out how Ms. Vigil-Goron is alleged to have benefited financially from the transactions, and Attorney General Gary King declined to explain.
All four defendants denied the charges through their attorneys. Ms. Vigil-Giron released a statement calling the allegations a witch hunt and saying she could "account for every last nickel" of the federal grant.
A federal audit of New Mexico's 2004 voter-outreach effort found that the political consultant paid by the secretary of state received about $6.3 million but could account for just $2.6 million in costs.
But Ms. Vigil-Goron's attorney, Robert Gorence, said there were no problems with other grants she supervised, such as an effort to upgrade voting machines. "If someone's a thief, they'll tend to steal across the board," Mr. Gorence said. "None of that happened."
Lawyers for the other defendants said they billed the state reasonable sums for a voter-education campaign that was vetted by the state's lawyers and included television and radio ads in three languages. New Mexico was a battleground in the 2004 presidential election, and voter turnout did improve substantially.
"The state will utterly fail to prove a single example of kickbacks," said Miles Hanisee, who represents political consultant Armando Gutierrez.
The indictments are the latest blow to New Mexico's Democratic party. Gov. Bill Richardson remains under federal investigation for allegedly steering state contracts to a financial-services firm in exchange for political donations. Mr. Richardson, who isn't seeking re-election, has denied any wrongdoing.
Other Democratic public officials indicted or convicted in the state in recent years include two state treasurers; the longtime leader of the state senate; a director of affordable housing; and two members of the agency that regulates utilities. Many were accused or convicted of mishandling public funds.
"There's a culture, an expectation, here that expenditures will not be reviewed," said state Auditor Hector Balderas, a Democrat. Mr. Balderas is calling on the legislature to boost his staff of 30 professional auditors to as many as 150 so he can scrutinize state agencies' contracts and accounts.
Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, a Democrat who is running for governor next year, renewed her call for an independent state ethics commission with subpoena power and investigative authority.
But the legislature has a track record of failing to pass ethics overhauls. Last spring, it passed the state's first campaign-contribution limits, while other ethics-overhaul bills didn't make it.

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