ALBUQUERQUE (AP) - A union-funded political group asked Attorney General Gary King on Thursday to investigate the awarding of a 25-year lease that will permit the Downs at Albuquerque to build a larger casino at the state fairgrounds.
Independent Source PAC, in a letter to King, contends that the lease should be invalidated because businesses connected to two of the Down's owners contributed to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's political action committee potentially in violation of a state law restricting donations from potential government contractors.
A spokesman for King, who is a Democrat, said the group's allegations will be reviewed.
Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell said the contributions were permissible under state law and didn't influence decisions on the fairgrounds lease. The state Board of Finance approved the lease last December. The governor voted for the lease. She is the board's president and appoints a majority of its members.
The least will allow the Downs to continue operating a horse racing track at the fairgrounds in Albuquerque and build a new casino, which is estimated to cost $20 million and will have twice as many slot machines as the current casino.
State law prohibits a potential contractor, during a procurement process or contract negotiations, from contributing to a government official with influence over the awarding of the contract.
Michael Corwin, executive director of Independent Source, said the law appears to bar at least $10,000 in contributions in 2011 that went to the governor's PAC from a racetrack and a ranching company in which two Downs owners have an interest — $5,000 on May 6 and $5,000 on July 7, according to state campaign finance reports.
The state fair issued a "request for proposals" for competitive bids on a long-term lease on July 24, but Corwin said that apparently had been planned for July 5 based on an email from the fairgrounds manager that the group obtained through a public records request.
Independent Source, as part of a report provided to King, contends the state fair was potentially negotiating a one-year lease contract extension with the Downs in 2011 when the May contribution was made. However, Darnell said that's incorrect.
A possible lease extension was signed in June 1 by the fair's general manager, but Darnell said that was done without lengthy negotiations. The extension ultimately was never needed because of the new long-term lease.
Jay McCleskey, the governor's political adviser, said the dates of the contributions in campaign reports reflect when checks were deposited by the PAC and the donations actually were given in late April and June 2011. McCleskey said the timing of the contributions does not run afoul of the law governing contractor donations.
Independent Source, which has been sharply critical of the Martinez administration, is heavily financed by a national labor union that represents some state workers. The Communications Workers of America contributed $100,000 to the PAC last year, according to a disclosure report filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Corwin, an Albuquerque private investigator who has done opposition research for Democratic candidates, said he is not working for any campaigns.
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