In the wake of the indictment of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges, a new "pay to play" scandal has caused concern for Barack Obama's transition team—this one involving his pick for commerce secretary, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
Since last summer, Richardson has been subject to a federal probe as to whether CDR Financial Products was chosen for a state contract because of its contributions totaling $100,000 to two political action committees started by Richardson. The FBI, which has been focusing on eradicating "pay to play" incidents in the municipal bond market, became involved when it noticed that the firm wasn't on the initial list of businesses most qualified for the nearly $1.5 million contract.
CPR hasn't had any charges filed against it, and Richardson has said that he and his administration "acted properly in all matters."
Still, he withdrew his name from consideration as Obama's secretary of commerce yesterday, saying the investigation would have "forced an untenable delay" in his confirmation process.
Richardson's withdrawal poses the first major obstacle to Obama during his transition. The president-elect had swiftly assembled his cabinet so he could hit the ground running on January 20--particularly on economic matters. Now, a little more than two weeks before his inauguration, he needs to pick a new commerce secretary.
The incident has also called his vetting process into question, as the investigation had been ongoing when Richardson was picked. Sources have said that Richardson had assured the team the investigation would come out fine but that the depth of the investigation became clear only later, making the transition team worried that confirmation hearings could take weeks or even months.
The investigation had begun to heat up in mid-December, around the same time that the president-elect announced Richardson as his pick for the Commerce Department.
Obama has said he accepted Richardson's decision with "deep regret." Still, sources have said that Obama didn't exactly try to talk him out of stepping down.