Secretary of Commerce: Who is Bill Richardson?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Bill Richardson’s 30-year career in politics has included several controversies, including “pay to play” allegations that are likely to become highly publicized during his confirmation hearings for Secretary of Commerce.
Born William Blaine “Bill” Richardson III on November 15, 1947, in Pasadena, CA, Richardson’s parents were William Richardson and Maria Luisa Lopez-Collada. William Richardson, an executive with National City Bank (now Citibank), was transferred to Mexico City, where he met and eventually married Lopez-Collada, who was 22 and his secretary at the time. Richardson was conceived in Mexico, but his father had his mother travel to the US just before giving birth so that his son would automatically become an American citizen. Bill Richardson and his mother then returned to Mexico City, where Richardson grew up until he was 13. At that point, his parents sent him to Massachusetts to attend Middlesex School, a prep school, where he played baseball as a pitcher. There, he met his high school sweetheart, Barbara Flavin, who he later married in 1972.
In 1966 Richardson entered Tufts University in Massachusetts, where he continued to play baseball. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1970, majoring in French and political science. He went on to earn a master’s degree in international affairs from Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in 1971.
Richardson harbored dreams of playing professional baseball, and for decades he claimed that he had been drafted by the Kansas City Athletics. An investigation by the Albuquerque Journal in 2005 disproved this claim, revealing he had never been drafted by any team.
Instead of playing baseball for the majors, Richardson went to Washington, DC, where he first worked as a staffer for Republican Congressman F. Bradford Morse of Lowell, Massachusetts. He then served on the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and after that for the State Department during the reign of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Richardson moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1978. Two years later, at the age of 33, Richardson made his first run for Congress. He challenged Republican incumbent Manuel Lujan (later Secretary of the Interior under President George H. W. Bush) for the 1st Congressional District, but lost. Two years lafter that, Richardson was elected to New Mexico’s newly-created third district, beginning a 14-year career as a congressman.
During his time on Capitol Hill, Richardson served as chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (1983–1985) and chairman of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Native American Affairs (1993–1994). He became a member of the Democratic leadership as a deputy majority whip, where he befriended President Bill Clinton. Clinton sent Richardson on various foreign policy missions, including a 1996 trip to Baghdad to negotiate with Saddam Hussein over the release of two American aerospace workers who had been captured. Richardson also visited Nicaragua, Guatemala, Cuba, Peru, India, North Korea, Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Sudan to represent US interests.
When Clinton needed a new US ambassador to the United Nations in 1997, he turned to Richardson for the appointment. The posting lasted only a year, before Clinton chose Richardson to serve as his next Secretary of Energy. His time as head of the Department of Energy (DOE) proved rocky, thanks to the Wen Ho Lee scandal and a subsequent investigation into security at America’s nuclear weapons facilities. As the leader of DOE, Richardson oversaw a vast collection of top secret laboratories, and in 1999 the FBI accused Lee, a veteran scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, of spying for the Chinese. Lee later was cleared of espionage charges. After pleading guilty to one charge of improperly downloading restricted documents and and won an $895,000 settlement from the federal government and $750,000 from five news organizations (the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angleles Times ABC News and the Associated Press).
Richardson came under intense criticism from Republicans in Congress over his handling of the controversy, including demands that he resign. Further adding to Richardson’s troubles was a report released in 1999 by Clinton’s blue ribbon panel that found numerous serious problems with security at DOE-supervised labs and nuclear facilities. The negative press crippled Richardson’s chances of becoming Al Gore’s running mate for the 2000 presidential election.
For his first two years after the end of the Clinton administration, Richardson taught and consulted. He was an adjunct professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a lecturer at the Armand Hammer United World College of the American West. He also joined Kissinger McLarty Associates, the lobbying firm started by Henry Kissinger that was later joined by Clinton’s former chief of staff Mack McLarty. The firm was notoriously secretive about its activities and clients, who are required not to disclose their relationship with the firm.
In 2002, Richardson returned home to New Mexico and ran for governor. He easily beat his GOP opponent, John Sanchez, and in the process set the record for most handshakes in eight hours by a politician (13,392), a feat he accomplished at the New Mexico State Fair and at a tailgate party outside a football game between the University of New Mexico and Baylor. (The record for a consecutive handshakes for a non-politician is 31,118).
During his tenure as governor, Richardson supported tax cuts to promote growth and investment, established a fund to finance large-scale infrastructure projects, supported gay rights, approved legislation to allow New Mexicans to carry concealed handguns and use medical marijuana, and was named chairman of the Democratic Governors Association. Richardson won a second term as governor in 2006 by an even wider margin than his first victory
Unable to run for governor a third time due to term limits, Richardson launched a short-lived campaign for president in 2007. He gave up his bid in January 2008 and then surprised many observers when he endorsed Barack Obama over Hilary Clinton, earning him the label “Judas” from Clinton adviser James Carville.
Richardson’s confirmation hearings are likely to involve questions regarding “pay to play” allegations with a political donor who was awarded million-dollar contracts by the state of New Mexico. In late December 2008, it was reported that a federal grand jury is investigating accusations that Richardson’s administration gave lucrative contracts to CDR Financial Products, Inc. of Beverly Hills, a firm controlled by David Rubin, who donated more than $100,000 to Richardson’s campaign committees in 2005.
About Bill (Bill Richardson for
Political Donor’s Contracts Under Inquiry in New Mexico (by Dan Frosch and James C. McKinley Jr., New York Times)
Grand Jury Investigates Richardson Contributor (by Carol D. leonnig, Washington Post)
Company’s State Contract Under FBI Scrutiny (by Barry Massey, Associated Press)
The Pro-Familia Candidate (by Joel Achenbach, Washington Post)
One-Time Prospect Acknowledges Draft Info Wrong (by Toby Smith, Albuquerque Journal)


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