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Alford Will Show; No Pics

By Jeff Jones
Journal Staff Writer
       Game on. Sort of.
    Lobos hoops coach Steve Alford says he'll keep his word and attend a political fundraiser that has New Mexico sports fans and politicos buzzing — but he won't pose for the $1,000-a-pop photos with donors as advertised on the invitation.
    "I don't endorse political candidates. However, I'm a man of my word and plan to attend the event," Alford said of Wednesday's fundraiser for Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, the Republican candidate for the 1st Congressional District.
    Alford and White said in separate statements that a breakdown in communication led the campaign to believe Alford had agreed be the star of the event co-sponsored by a pair of University of New Mexico regents at the home of a university lobbyist.
    In fact, he had only agreed to be a role player by putting in an appearance.
    "I also explained to Darren that I don't charge money for photographs, since I've always thought that it's wrong for athletes to charge fans for autographs and photos," Alford said in a statement issued by the university.
    "I very much look forward to Coach Alford being our special guest," White said in a statement of his own.
    A campaign spokeswoman said organizers will contact donors who have forked over $1,000 for a photo with the coach to see what they want to do with those contributions.
    White's campaign recently sent out about 1,000 invitation to the fundraiser aimed at boosting his war chest for his upcoming general election battle with Democratic candidate Martin Heinrich.
    The invitations made it clear that Alford was the headliner. Cost to attend was listed as $250 with $1,000 for a photo with the coach.
    The invitations sparked plenty of talk by sports fans and political heavyweights.
    Fans in the Journal's "Sports Speak Up!" duked it out over the wisdom and propriety of UNM's big-name coach plugging for a politician.
    UNM athletics vice president Paul Krebs, who acknowledges that he asked Alford to go to the event in a networking capacity, said he would "strongly advocate" that his coaches steer clear of political plugging. And he signaled Wednesday that Alford's appearance at the fundraiser was in limbo.
    Reporters in Iowa, where Alford coached before taking the Lobo job for nearly $1 million a year, said he was nonpolitical during his tenure there. A check of records here showed he isn't registered to vote in New Mexico.
    UNM regents President Jamie Koch, a major Democratic player and fundraiser, said having a UNM employee headlining a fundraiser sponsored by regents left a bad impression — and said he planned to introduce a resolution to stop such practices.
    And White, who said Alford has attended past fundraisers for Democrats, including Gov. Bill Richardson, accused the governor of leaning on UNM.
    White provided the Journal with copies of an e-mail exchange with party host and UNM lobbyist Joe Thompson in which the White camp asked whether the wording on the invitations was acceptable.
    While Thompson gave the green light to send out the invitations, Alford and White in their Thursday statements said the coach didn't get the details.
    "I understand that Darren's campaign distributed the invitation and details about the event," Alford said. "Unfortunately, the campaign received approval to send invitations without those details being passed on to me."
    White, meanwhile, said: " ... He understands that my campaign was acting with the belief that the coach had reviewed and approved the invitation. We now know that did not happen."
    While Koch questioned the appearance of having the coach as the main draw at the event co-hosted by fellow regents Don Chalmers and Jack Fortner, White said Koch did essentially the same thing last year.
    White pointed to a July 2007 story concerning a fundraiser for Richardson's now-defunct presidential bid organized by Cheryl Willman, director of the UNM Cancer Research & Treatment Center.
    That story reported that, according to Willman's invitations, Richardson and Koch asked her to host the fundraiser and invite fellow colleagues.
    Koch on Thursday said he did not ask Willman to host the fundraiser.
    "That was her deal. I didn't ask her to do it at all," Koch said. "I didn't know she was going to have one until I got invited."
    Willman could not be reached for comment.