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Richardson scandal firm gave Rendell $$$$, was tied to Philly probe

Richardson scandal firm gave Rendell $$$$, was tied to Philly probe

Remember when I wrote the other day that the chickens were coming home to roost for the Democrats by going to the well of experienced -- but in some cases badly compromised -- career pols too many times. Well, I should have guessed that some of those chickens are roosting right here in Pennsylvania.

In fact, there are reports this morning that the company that is at the center of the federal grand jury that derailed the nomination of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson also does state business here in Pennsylvania, gave sizable donations to Gov. Ed Rendell, and hired a longtime Rendell pal as a lobbyist. And that's not all: The company -- CDR Financial Products -- is also the firm that sent disgraced and still-jailed former Philadelphia treasurer Corey Kemp of the scandal-scarred John Street administration to the 2003 Super Bowl as it was successfully seeking city business.

The reports come by way of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the website TPMMuckraker. It should be noted that the state agency that awarded CDR a lucrative contract as a financial advisor denies receiving any pressure whatsoever from the governor or his people.

When the news broke that Richardson was out as Barack Obama's choice to serve as Commerce Secretary, most of the local reports focused on the national political drama and less on the specifics of the investigation that caused the 2008 presidential also-ran to withdraw his name. It turns out the company and its chief official, David Rubin, are no strangers to the murky world of politics here.

First, the allegations that are under investigation in New Mexico:

The probe is focused on how the company -- whose founder gave at least $100,000 in political contributions to the New Mexico governor's political action committees -- won two 2004 financial consulting contracts with the state, worth about $1.4 million. No real evidence has yet emerged that Richardson himself is currently a target of the investigation, but his abrupt decision to take himself out of the running for the Commerce post -- and his refusal to say, at a press conference this afternoon, whether he had hired a lawyer in connection with the investigation -- suggest the story won't soon go away.

But Rubin's CDR should have set off red flags long ago. Although it was not charged with any wrongdoing, the firm did play a significant role in the 2003 city corruption probe that included the bugging of Mayor Street's office and criminal convictions for Kemp and a cast of local political wheeler-dealers. As summarized here:

In April 2001, CDR hired Ron White, a bond lawyer and chief fundraiser for Philadelphia Mayor John Street, as a consultant, paying him a $5,000 retainer to help the company win business with the city. Rubin donated $15,000 to Street between December 2000 and June 2003, according to Pennsylvania state filings.
In addition, CDR gave White three tickets to the 2003 Super Bowl in San Diego and provided a limo ride to the game. White brought along Philadelphia treasurer Corey Kemp, according to a federal criminal indictment brought against White and Kemp in 2004.

Here, too, CDR -- which seems to make money both from government contracts and the banks with which it does business -- landed a lucrative deal from City Hall without any competitive bidding. But at the same time, with less fanfare (until now), CDR was forging close ties to Pennsylvania's then-new governor, Rendell. Summing up some of the reports so far this week:

* CDR's Rubin has given $35,000 in political contributions to Rendell, including some $20,000 during his 2002 campaign. After the ex-Philadelphia mayor was elected to his first term, Rubin was given a seat on the transition committee.

* CDR's lobbyist in Harrisburg has been one of Rendell's closest political fundraisers, Philadelphia lawyer Alan Kessler.

* Also in 2003, a state agency -- the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency -- awarded CDR a no-bid contract as a bond swaps advisor, a deal that has netted the controversial company hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits. That was before news about its role in the Philadelphia corruption probe had surfaced, but amazingly (OK, maybe not so amazingly) CDR continued to receive work locally, including a 2006 arrangement with Philadelphia Gas Works.

It's unclear how much of this is on the official radar screen of government agents who seem to be expanding their probe into CDR's coast-to-coast political activities. One other thing to wonder is this: Rendell was clearly not in the running himself for Obama's cabinet because of his political situation at home: The death of his lieutenant governor Catherine Baker Knoll and her constitutional replacement with a Republican, in particular. But you'd have to assume that Rendell was on Obama's short list for any openings after 2010.

Is he still?