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Gov. Dishes Out Jobs to Donors

By Thomas J. Cole
Journal Investigative Reporter
    Gov. Bill Richardson has handed out at least 122 state jobs, many of them high-paying, to campaign contributors or family members of his financial backers.
    Contributors or their family members hired by Richardson gave at least $245,500 to the governor's campaign in 2002. One appointee gave more than $22,000.
    The top 25 individual contributors to Richardson who were appointed to jobs earn an average of just under $76,000 a year on the state payroll.
    And there are many more so-called exempt jobs available than before in Santa Fe these days.
    Richardson has expanded the number of positions in which employees serve at the pleasure of the governor. As of April 30, the number of exempt jobs in 23 executive agencies stood at 292— compared to 167 under the previous governor, Gary Johnson.
    Those numbers don't include the Public Education Department, which last year became an agency under the governor's control. It has another 15 exempt positions.
    Billy Sparks, Richardson's spokesman, said the governor is aware of who contributes money to him but added, "The governor has never allowed contributions to impact his policies or employment."
    Sparks said the contributors appointed to jobs were the best people for the positions and that Richardson doesn't tolerate those who don't produce in the work place.
    "He's quick to make changes if the person isn't performing or rising to the task," Sparks said. "That has been true his entire career."
    A spokesman for a nonpartisan government watchdog group said the hiring by Richardson "raises the question whether there is rampant political favoritism" and "creates the appearance that the reason they got the job was a contribution and not qualifications."
    "Taxpayers should be concerned whether they are getting the most bang for the buck," said Edwin Bender, executive director of the Institute on Money in State Politics in Helena, Mont.
New hirings
    Under the state Inspection of Public Records Act, the Albuquerque Journal asked the administration for the résumés and job applications for 16 of the biggest contributors to Richardson to land jobs after the election.
    The administration produced six résumés and one job application, saying it didn't have such paperwork for the other employees.
    Richardson's hires include:
  • Bergit Salazar as deputy secretary of the Department of Cultural Affairs, at an annual salary of about $70,700. She and her husband contributed nearly $12,000 to Richardson. Salazar had been working as a real estate agent.
  • Daniel Maki as an administrator in the Governor's Office, at an annual salary of $47,350. His father contributed more than $5,000 to Richardson. Maki is a former manager of a gas station and a sporting goods store.
  • Maxine Otero as a receptionist in the Governor's Office, at an annual salary of $32,900. Her father contributed $14,000 to Richardson. Otero had worked as a painting-crew supervisor and as a dental assistant.
    Promotions given
        Some of the campaign contributors given jobs by Richardson were already working in government but received promotions from the governor. That group includes:
  • Sharon Maloof as deputy tourism secretary, at an annual salary of about $83,700. She contributed $2,910 to Richardson, while other members of her prominent Albuquerque family and their companies gave $82,400.
  • Paul E. Cook as a division director at the Department of Public Safety, at an annual salary of about $75,300. He gave $22,125 to Richardson in 2002. Since his hiring, a Cook family foundation has given $5,000 to Moving America Forward, the governor's political action committee.
  • Ricky Bejarano as a division director at the Department of Taxation and Revenue, at an annual salary of $76,609. He donated $3,000 to Richardson in 2002.
    Nothing new
        It certainly isn't unusual for a governor to give supporters jobs with the state.
        When he took office, Richardson, a Democrat, demanded the resignations of all exempt employees.
        Johnson, the previous governor and a Republican, made the same move but was widely criticized by Democrats for seeking to replace all exempt employees.
        Democrats made no such complaints about Richardson, even though several of the Johnson appointees to be axed were Democrats.
        Richardson has been intimately involved in picking hires to fill the lowest ranks of exempt employees, while Johnson largely relied on his Cabinet secretaries to do that.
        In a different twist, Bruce King, who served 12 years as governor, was once criticized by members of his own party for not awarding more jobs to his Democratic supporters.
    $8,985 in donations
        Salazar, either individually or with her husband, contributed $8,985 to Richardson's campaign. Her husband, Donald, a lawyer and lobbyist, separately gave another $2,710.
        The governor appointed Donald Salazar to one of the prestigious seats on the University of New Mexico board of regents, but Donald has since died.
        Bergit Salazar said she has known Richardson for 25 years and didn't contribute in hopes of being appointed. "I really didn't think I was going to get a job," she said.
        Salazar has a master's degree in special education and a bachelor's in anthropology but had been working as a real estate agent, largely part time, since 1979 while raising a family.
        She had been active in charitable causes and had served on the board of the state Arts Commission. She said she had also helped her husband in his business of lobbying the Legislature.
        "I feel very comfortable in this job because I knew a lot of the players," Salazar said.
        In addition to meeting with legislators, she works with the 20 boards and foundations whose missions involve the Department of Cultural Affairs or its museums.
        "It's a lot of public relations," Salazar said.
        Daniel Maki is the son of Santa Fe businessman and lobbyist Walter "Butch" Maki, who worked for Richardson when he was a congressman and is a longtime friend of the governor.
        Maki, 26, formerly managed a gas station and a sporting goods store for his father.
        Maki was originally hired as an assistant in the section of Richardson's office that deals with gubernatorial appointments to more than 100 state boards and commissions.
        Maki now heads the section, which identifies vacancies, makes appointment recommendations, tracks Senate confirmations, if needed, and monitors attendance at meetings of boards and commissions.
        He said he believed he was hired because he did a good job as a volunteer in the same area on Richardson's transition team. "I don't believe there was any influence from my father," Maki said.
        He also said that he has long been involved in politics through his father or through his own work. He was a paid worker on a get-out-the-vote campaign in 2002.
        "I've met all these people throughout the state," Maki said.
        Otero is the daughter of Santa Fe general contractor Sonny Otero.
        She declined to be interviewed, but a résumé supplied by the Governor's Office shows that she worked on Richardson's campaign and prior to that for her father's company and as a dental assistant.
        Maloof, a 17-year employee of the Tourism Department, said she wasn't looking for an advantage in her career when she contributed to Richardson.
        "I got promoted because I'm really good at tourism," Maloof said. "He recognized talent and I appreciate that. I worked really, really hard for many, many years. Nothing was handed to me."
        Cook is director of the Department of Public Safety's Technical and Emergency Support Division, which manages the agency's record bureau and crime laboratories.
        Cook was formerly in charge of a program at the Health Department that checked the backgrounds of caregivers for criminal histories.
        He said he contributed to Richardson because of his leadership abilities and said he didn't expect an appointment. But, he added, "I was interested, yes, definitely."
        Cook said personal wealth made it possible for him to make such large contributions.
        Richardson appointed Bejarano to be director of the Audit and Compliance Division at the Department of Taxation and Revenue. He had been a deputy director of the division.
        Bejarano said he didn't contribute to Richardson in hopes of landing a promotion.
        "I'm definitely a Democrat," he said. "I wanted a Democratic governor. I wanted to see, definitely, a change."
        Bejarano added that he is a certified public accountant and has a master's in business administration. He said he first went to work in the audit division in 1989.
    'Contributors benefit'
        The Journal matched computer databases of appointed employees and Richardson campaign contributors.
        The contribution database was provided by the Institute of Money in State Politics.
        Bender, the institute's executive director, said political patronage systems often end up with taxpayers footing the expense of someone building a political career.
        "His (Richardson's) contributors benefit, and he benefits, and whether the taxpayer benefits is a question," he said. "We're hoping it's just not contributions he's considering" in handing out jobs.
        Sparks said the number of contributors given jobs represents only a fraction of the total number of government positions and only a fraction of the total number of people who donated money to Richardson.
        He said Richardson should be judged on the success of the administration and he said credit is due for job growth, education changes and other improvements in New Mexico life.
        "He's a very demanding administrator— and demanding in a good sense of the word," Sparks said. "He wants results."