Albuquerque Journal

7777 Jefferson Street NE
Albuquerque, N.M., 87109


September 15, 2004 Wednesday

LES Donation Crosses Conflict-of-Interest Line

A $10,000 donation to one of Gov. Bill Richardson's political committees from a company that wants to build a controversial uranium enrichment facility in Lea County presents an appearance problem for the governor. He should order the money returned.

Louisiana Energy Services (LES) hopes to build a $1.2 billion enrichment facility near Eunice to supply fuel for nuclear reactors. Richardson says he won't support the plan unless LES guarantees that the waste it produces won't be stored in New Mexico.

There are no storage facilities in the United States for the waste, and LES has no definitive plan for disposing of it.

The waste is relatively low in radioactivity. A worker would have to stand within a foot of a waste canister for an hour to be exposed to 1/30th of the dose he would get from a dental X-ray.

But without Richardson's support, it's unlikely LES could obtain needed state permits to build and operate the facility.

Returning the money -- donated to Richardson's Moving America Forward --isn't without recent precedent.

In July, Moving America Forward received a $5,000 in-kind donation from a Little Rock-based law firm that was bidding on -- and eventually received -- a contract to represent the state in securities-fraud cases. The money covered a trip by Richardson to Las Vegas, Nev.

Though that donation "did not in any way influence" the contracting process, said Richardson spokesman Billy Sparks, the money was returned.

In August, Moving America Forward gave back a $10,000 donation received from Pittsburgh-based The Bantry Group. At the time, a Bantry subsidiary was bidding for -- and eventually received -- a multimillion-dollar contract to provide health care for state prisoners. Sparks said the money was being returned "to avoid even the appearance of impropriety."

The LES donation falls into the same category.

Copyright 2004 Albuquerque Journal
Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico)