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          Front Page




Lender Made 6 Travel Donations to Dems' Govs.

By Jeff Jones
Copyright 2006 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Politics Writer
    Advance America has made at least six in-kind travel contributions to the Democratic Governors Association since February 2005.
    The payday loan giant was one of the top donors of in-kind travel to the Democratic governors group in 2005 when it donated $16,948. Filings for 2006 are not yet available.
    The following list was compiled primarily from information obtained from DGA documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service.
    In some cases, the Journal also was able to obtain tracking data that showed itinerary of certain jet aircraft. The tracking database does not go back far enough to cover all the entries listed here.
    The final entry is based only on airline tracking data and matched to the governor's schedule. Because that itinerary occurred in 2006, the DGA has not yet filed information that would indicate whether it was a donation.
    A Richardson spokesman declined to say whether the governor had traveled on Advance America aircraft.
    Spokesman Gilbert Gallegos last week said he would not answer specific questions about Richardson's DGA travel and turned down a Journal request to interview Richardson concerning the matter.
    "We publicly disclose each time the governor travels on DGA business. The DGA arranges those trips, and New Mexico taxpayers are not footing the bill."
    Asked specifically whether he would dispute that Richardson, in his DGA role, had accepted travel provided by Advance America, Gallegos referred to his initial response.
    A DGA spokesman also would not say whether Richardson traveled on Advance America aircraft.
    The spokesman said in an e-mail response to Journal questions: "The DGA discloses all contributions and expenditures as required by law. However, we do not discuss details of any individual governor's travel."
    Advance America did not return calls seeking comment.
   
  • Feb. 28, 2005: Democratic Governors Association records show Advance America contributed $9,211 in travel to the DGA.
        That date coincides with the DGA winter meeting in Washington, D.C. A Richardson news release at the time said the governor would be in the nation's capital from Feb. 27-March 1 for various events involving his role with the DGA.
        "The DGA is paying Governor Richardson's travel expenses," the release said.
        A Roswell company, Cimarron Exploration, also was listed as providing an in-kind travel donation of $12,789 to the DGA on Feb. 28. The company has an airplane, and a company representative said she thought Richardson had been on the Cimarron plane.
       
  • March 12, 2005: Records show Advance America contributed $1,272 in travel to the DGA.
        No DGA event for that date was referenced in the association's news-release archives or in Richardson's news-release archives.
        On that date, the University of New Mexico men's and women's basketball teams played in championship games at the Mountain West Conference tournament in Denver, securing NCAA Tournament bids with their victories.
       
  • May 6, 2005: Advance America contributed $1,638 in travel to the DGA.
        On that day, a Friday, Richardson, in a news release, announced that he and other governors would be in Louisville, Ky., that weekend for a DGA-sponsored event coinciding with the Kentucky Derby.
        "The DGA is paying Governor Richardson's travel expenses," the release said.
       
  • June 2, 2005: Advance America made two travel contributions, totaling $2,809, to the DGA.
        No DGA event for that date was referenced in the association's news-release archives or in Richardson's news-release archives.
       
  • Nov. 13, 2005: Advance America contributed $2,018 in travel to the DGA.
        No DGA event for that date, a Sunday, was referenced in the association's news-release archives or in Richardson's news-release archives.
        Richardson was in San Diego, Los Angeles and Palm Desert, Calif., that weekend. He attended rock concerts by the Eagles and the Rolling Stones and attended a golf tournament to benefit his gubernatorial re-election campaign at an exclusive development near Palm Springs.
        The fundraising golf event was co-hosted by New Mexico racetrack and casino magnate R.D. Hubbard at Bighorn, Hubbard's golf, spa and luxury-home development there.
        Records from a flight-tracking service show that a Gulfstream executive jet on Nov. 11 left Spartanburg, S.C.— the headquarters city of Advance America— and stopped in Santa Fe before heading to San Diego.
        On Nov. 12, that same executive jet flew into the Palm Springs International Airport. On Nov. 13, the jet returned to Santa Fe before heading back to Spartanburg.
        According to National Business Aviation Association records, that Gulfstream jet is operated by a firm called OTO Development. OTO Development was launched by Advance America chairman George D. Johnson Jr. and Miami Dolphins owner H. Wayne Huizenga, according to a company document.
        In a Journal interview shortly after the November fundraising trip, Richardson political director Amanda Cooper made no mention of any DGA involvement in the Southern California travel.
        At the time, Cooper refused to say whether Richardson had flown charter or commercial but said, "We flew out on our own dime."
        Cooper at the time also refused to specify how much money the governor raised on the trip, saying it would be revealed in a legally required state campaign-finance report later this year.
        Several Journal telephone messages left for Cooper last week were not returned.
       
  • February 2006: Richardson, in a news release, announced he would be traveling to the East Coast on Feb. 6 to address a conference at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He was then to travel to Washington, D.C., to participate in a national Democratic news conference, with the DGA picking up the travel tab.
        On Feb. 3, a Friday, a Learjet took off from Spartanburg and arrived in Santa Fe later that day, records from a flight-tracking service show.
        According to the National Business Aviation Association, that Learjet is operated by Advance America.
        The jet on the afternoon of Feb. 5— Super Bowl Sunday— left Santa Fe and landed in Las Vegas.
        After a stop in Las Vegas of less than three hours, the Learjet was back in the air, headed to Raleigh-Durham International Airport in North Carolina and ultimately to Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.
        The executive jet returned to Santa Fe early Feb. 7, then returned to Spartanburg.
        Contribution information from the DGA that would outline any donated travel to that association for early 2006 is not yet available through the IRS.