A federal grand jury is investigating whether former Gov. Bill Richardson violated campaign finance laws during his unsuccessful bid for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination by raising money to settle a threatened lawsuit by a woman who worked in state government, the Albuquerque Journal reported Wednesday.
The Journal attributed its report (http://bit.ly/rrOdZL) to unnamed lawyers who said the grand jury has been hearing testimony in Albuquerque since at least September.
A defense attorney familiar with parts of the investigation confirmed to The Associated Press the federal probe is looking into whether Richardson supporters gave money to settle a threatened sexual harassment lawsuit against the governor. The attorney spoke on condition of anonymity because the secret grand jury proceedings continue.
A Richardson spokesman didn't immediately respond to telephone and email requests for comment. The U.S. Attorney's office declined comment. Former Richardson political aides did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
Richardson served as governor in 2003-2010. He spent much of 2007 running for president but dropped out of the race in early 2008 after poor showings in the opening contests in New Hampshire and Iowa. Richardson collected about $23 million in contributions for his presidential campaign.
According to the Journal and the attorney who spoke with the AP, the federal probe of Richardson resembles a case against former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. He was indicted earlier this year on felony charges for violating campaign finance laws.
Federal prosecutors contend that Edwards tried to protect his political career by asking wealthy donors to secretly provide money to help him hide his mistress during the presidential campaign in 2007 and early 2008. The money should have been disclosed as campaign contributions and exceeded federal limits on donations, according to prosecutors. Edwards has pleaded not guilty.
The federal investigation in New Mexico is the latest to cast a shadow over Richardson. Still pending is a separate federal probe into possible influence peddling in state investments during the Richardson administration by a pension fund and another government agency.
A state government agency and others have brought damage lawsuits claiming that New Mexico investments were improperly steered to political supporters of Richardson, who has not been named as a defendant.
No charges were brought against Richardson or his former top aides in 2009 after a probe of an alleged pay-to-play scheme that had prompted the governor to withdraw his nomination as U.S. commerce secretary. The yearlong investigation looked into the hiring of a Richardson political donor for a lucrative contract as a financial adviser on state transportation bond deals.
Then-U.S. Attorney Greg Fouratt sent a letter to defense lawyers confirming that no charges would be brought but he said the investigation "revealed that pressure from the governor's office resulted in the corruption of the procurement process" in the bond work contracting.
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