Political Donor to Gov. Bill Richardson to Benefit From New Mexico Project

A major donor to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson will benefit from $4 million in state financing for a road project providing access to a 6,000-acre real estate project the donor's company is developing.

The money, which would be used to upgrade a state interchange, is in legislation headed to the governor, a Democratic candidate for president. The real estate venture had sought $7 million for the upgrade, but state lawmakers approved less Monday night.

James Foster, president of Coast Range Investments, contributed $10,000 to Richardson's re-election campaign last year. Foster also donated the use of his corporate jet for two Richardson trips to California, according to lobbyist filings released in January and reviewed by The Associated Press.

Foster also provided his plane for Richardson to travel in his past role as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.

A real estate investment operation affiliated with the development donated $75,000 to Richardson's re-election last year.

Amanda Cooper, the governor's re-election campaign manager who is now working on Richardson's presidential exploratory committee, said political donations don't influence Richardson.

"The governor does not make any decisions or is not impacted by any contributions whether that's a money contribution or event or whatever," Cooper said.

Coast Range Investments, formerly operating as RS Investments, is the driving force behind the industrial park and residential development on about nine square miles of land bordering Interstate 25 between Los Lunas and Belen, N.M. Over the next two decades, the development expects to become the home to 35,000 people — five times larger than the current population of Belen — and provide a $3.5 billion boost to the state's economy.

A critical part of the development is access to the interstate. The road improvement is needed for a commercial and industrial center that's the first phase of the development.

"We've been working to piece together some statewide capital outlay for it. We've been working with lawmakers and the governor's office on that, just like everybody else would," said J. D. Bullington, a lobbyist for the development's New Mexico operation, N.M. Development Partners.

The interchange improvement is backed by the city of Belen, which has annexed the land for the planned development, and the Mid-Region Council of Governments, which performs traffic planning analysis for the area.

Under current state law, there's no restriction on contributions — monetary or in-kind donations of goods or services — to candidates for state offices such as governor.