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Denver's Mayoral Race -- Pay to Play?

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Denver's mayoral race is coming down to the wire with four potential candidates still in the mix -- Michael Hancock, Doug Linkhart, James Mejia, and Chris Romer.

This race shines a spotlight on the direction of our political process. Does one become elected to higher office through public service or by means and connections to the wealthy?

In the case of Hancock, Linkhart and Mejia, public service to Denver was accomplished either by serving on the City Council (Hancock and Linkhart) or in the administration of the mayor (Mejia).

Chris Romer took a different path to higher office.

In our neighboring state of New Mexico, Bill Richardson started an ambitious program to expand the New Mexico highway -- called Governor Richardson's Investment Partnership. This plan was funded by some creative investment plans -- now known more widely as Credit Derivative or 'default' Swaps.

There was an investigation into this swap investment because, coincidentally, JP Morgan hired Denver politico Mike Stratton to secure interests in New Mexico to the tune of $269,000 -- when he was also connected to Richardson's Political Action Committee:

JPMorgan paid Michael Stratton, president of Denver-based Stratton & Associates, $269,000 in 2003 and 2004 to help win public finance business relating to "state, county, and local government and corporate entities" in New Mexico, according to records filed with the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board. Stratton's firm gave $2,000 to Richardson's first gubernatorial bid in 2002, and Stratton advised the governor on his 2008 presidential campaign, according to New Mexico records and the firm's Web site.

But wait, it gets murkier -- Richardson actually had to withdraw his name from the Obama administration's cabinet nomination because of the investigation by the feds into the too close for comfort relationship between Richardson's swap-funding plan to Democratic 'bundler' David Rubin and his group -- CDR:

On Dec. 15, Bloomberg News reported that the grand jury in Albuquerque was meeting to review how the company, Beverly Hills, California-based CDR Financial Products Inc., received almost $1.5 million in fees from the New Mexico Finance Authority. CDR contributed $100,000 to Richardson-affiliated groups. New York-based JPMorgan, the second-largest U.S. bank by assets, helped underwrite the bonds sold by the authority.

And who was the principle investor who brokered the investment? Chris Romer.

JPMorgan's lead banker on the deals was Chris Romer, 49, whose father was governor of Colorado from 1987 until 1999. On Aug. 21, JPMorgan told regulators about an investigation being conducted by the U.S. Attorney for New Mexico involving the municipal securities business, according to Romer's brokerage records with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

No one has been charged with wrongdoing. Stratton declined to comment on the investigation, as did Tasha Pelio, a spokeswoman for JPMorgan in New York. Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for the governor, didn't return calls seeking comment.

On this next point, let me be absolutely clear -- I do not believe Chris Romer did anything illegal.

What I do think is that this illustrates that Chris Romer made decisions to plot out his political career by aligning himself with political heavyweights who also happened to be in alliance with Wall Street banks like JP Morgan.

Perhaps in 2006 negotiating an investment swap through a credit default sounded reasonable -- unfortunately we all know how those investments turned out and ruined our economy. It seemed Romer took the path that seemed the fastest and shrewdest -- the old pay to play game -- rather than the usual track of 'career politician' -- a moniker that has earned a bad name in recent campaigns.

In light of trying to distinguish true democrats from 'corporate democrats' maybe for this Denver mayor's race, the term 'career politician' is actually a good thing in the case of Hancock, Linkhart and Mejia -- meaning we know where you have been working, and it has been in a public arena, not in private backroom deals.