SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s campaign received more than $25,000 in donations from individuals and companies with ties to a group seeking New Mexico’s final license for a horse racetrack and casino.
The Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper
that a company linked to another group also vying for the license made a donation of more than $5,000 late in the campaign.
Lujan Grisham was sworn in as governor this week and now has control over the state Racing Commission. She could allow it to issue the lucrative license or block it from doing so by appointing new commissioners.
“The governor wants to comprehensively evaluate the situation before setting a course,” governor spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said Wednesday.
Campaign ties between the governor and at least three of the groups seeking the license mean a commission decision selecting the winning group could be viewed as politically tainted.
The five commissioners appointed by former Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, remained in place Wednesday. Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, can replace any or all of them at any time.
Commissioners voiced frustration in December after being forced to delay a final decision on the license because of a court petition filed by Hidalgo Downs, which is seeking to build a racino in Lordsburg.
While no hearing has been set on the petition, the Democratic-controlled state attorney general’s office threatened to withdraw as legal counsel on the licensing process if the commission didn’t put off picking a winner until the petition had been resolved.
Three groups have made separate proposals to build a racino in the Clovis area. There also are proposals for racinos in Tucumcari and the one in Lordsburg.
One of the groups seeking the license is Clovis Racetrack and Casino. It’s headed by Shaun Hubbard, grandson of R.D. Hubbard, a former owner of racinos at Ruidoso Downs and Hobbs.
Shaun Hubbard and Joan Hubbard, wife of R.D. Hubbard, each donated $5,000 on the same day in August to Lujan Grisham’s campaign, according to the state’s database of political donations.
Also making a $5,000 contribution was Lee Lewis of Lubbock, Texas, another principal in Clovis Racetrack and Casino.
Two Hobbs companies of businessman Johnny Cope, also a principal in the Hubbard group, made donations to Lujan Grisham. Resource Protection gave $5,500 in May, and Cope Investments donated an additional $5,000 in October, according to the database.
Through his stables in Roswell, Racing Commission Chairman Ray Willis is a part owner with Cope, R.D. Hubbard and a Colorado businessman of racehorses, according to a national database of racehorse ownership. Willis also has owned horses with Shaun Hubbard.
Willis has denied any conflict between his horse ownership and his role overseeing the license.
Another company seeking to build a racino in the Clovis area is L&M Entertainment. It’s a joint venture of Laguna Development, which is owned by Laguna Pueblo, and Miller Cos. of Hinsdale, Illinois, which is headed by gambling industry executive Rob Miller.
Gaming Advisors, a company with the same address as Miller Cos., made a $5,500 donation to Lujan Grisham’s campaign ahead of the general election in November.
Laguna Development and Laguna Pueblo contributed a total of $7,500 to the governor’s campaign in 2017 and 2018, the database shows.
The third company seeking to build a racino in the Clovis area is Full House Resorts, a small Las Vegas, Nevada, casino company.
Raymond Sanchez, a former Democratic speaker of the state House of Representatives has represented Full House Resorts before the Racing Commission. He made a $1,000 political donation to Lujan Grisham in September, according to the database.
Former Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, whom Lujan Grisham defeated in the governor’s race, also received campaign donations tied to some of the applicants for the license.
Roswell car dealer Tom Krumland, who is a principal of Coronado Partners, the Tucumcari group, donated $11,000 to Pearce. Krumland’s wife also gave $11,000.
Laguna Development contributed $4,000 in 2017 and 2018 to Pearce’s campaign.
Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican,