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          Front Page




State E-Mail Used to Aid Gov.

By Jeff Jones
Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Politics Writer
    The director of the University of New Mexico Cancer Research & Treatment Center used her state e-mail account to help organize a private fundraiser for Gov. Bill Richardson's presidential campaign.
    Cheryl Willman said Tuesday she should not have used the UNM e-mail system to send out about 80 invitations to the fundraising breakfast Monday at her Albuquerque home.
    Some of the invitations were sent to other UNM medical staffers via their state e-mail addresses. Only a few of the UNM employees invited to the event work for her and most are peers or superiors, Willman said.
    "In retrospect, I should not have used my unm.edu account to distribute the (invites)," Willman told the Journal in a telephone interview. She said she composed the e-mail at home on her own time but added that she reimbursed UNM $25.20 on Tuesday for costs associated with using its distribution system.
    A UNM policy on political activity prohibits university employees from using "university supplies or equipment for campaign purposes." The policy does not specifically address e-mail use.
    Common Cause, a Washington, D.C.-based government watchdog group, criticized the e-mails when contacted by the Journal and said recipients could have felt politically pressured.
    "It suggests an insensitivity to where the line is between official business and private and political matters," said Mary Boyle, a Common Cause spokeswoman.
    Willman, in her e-mail, specified the fundraiser was a private event and not a UNM event. She said Tuesday she doesn't believe anyone who received the invitation felt pressured.
    "I received a lot of 'thank you's' for the invitations because the event allowed a lot of UNM and (other) health care providers to have access to the governor to talk about their concerns," Willman said. "People know me pretty well. If anyone had concerns about that e-mail, they could have expressed that to me. I didn't receive any negative responses to that e-mail."
    Willman said in the e-mailed invitation that Richardson and UNM regents president Jamie Koch— a former state Democratic Party chairman and a Richardson appointee to the regents— asked her to host the campaign fundraiser for Richardson and to invite UNM health sciences colleagues and others in the medical community.
    "The governor is interested in meeting individuals from UNM and the state's biomedical research community," the invitation said. "Please note that this is a private fundraising event, not a UNM-sponsored event. While we would be very pleased for you to join us, you are under no obligation."
    The invitation linked to an invitation prepared by the Richardson campaign suggesting contribution amounts: $100 for a "Guest," $250 for a "Friend of Bill" and $500 for a "Supporter of Bill."
    Willman's invitation said anyone with questions could contact her through her unm.edu e-mail account.
    She said Tuesday that about half the invitations were sent to UNM staffers. She said she used UNM e-mail addresses for about half of those staffers and private e-mail addresses for the others.
    Willman said she doesn't know how much the event raised for Richardson, adding that Richardson's staff collected the checks.