A Conflict of Interest??

By BASN Wire Services
Updated: November 14, 2009

BOSTON — The governor of Massachusetts said Friday there is no connection between big donations to him and the Democratic Party from the family that owns the New England Patriots and the state’s support for development across the road from Gillette Stadium.

Gov. Deval Patrick said Patriots owner Robert Kraft had asked him about using $9 million in federal stimulus money on a footbridge to an industrial site he owns across Route 1 from the stadium.

Patrick said the state supports it because the infrastructure will spur development and job creation.

Patrick says he has not requested a donation in return.

“I have not had to ask him about a campaign contribution because he’s been very supportive of us, which has been great,” the Democratic governor said.

State records show Kraft and his wife, Myra, each gave the maximum $500 campaign contribution to Patrick and Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray last month. The Krafts each also gave the state Democratic Party the maximum $5,000 donation.

Last year, Robert Kraft gave similar donations to Patrick and the party as the state was designating his property a special growth district.

The donations were Kraft’s first to the governor and first in four years to the party.

At the time, Patrick denied a quid pro quo. He did so again Friday.

“There’s no ‘there’ there,” the governor said. “We’re making these decisions on the merits. … There are others who have asked for investment of Recovery Act dollars or federal bonding dollars who have contributed to us and we’ve said no because those projects did not stand on their own.”

A spokesman for the Krafts did not return a request for comment.

The Krafts are proposing to use the 500-acre site for an office park.

The planned bridge will connect parking lots on either side of the busy highway and allow patrons of the office site to reach not only the stadium, but also the Krafts’ Patriot Place entertainment plazas.

On Oct. 29, the Metropolitan Planning Organization gave initial approval to the plan. The board, which decides how to spend federal transportation money, is expected to give final approval next week.

State Treasurer Timothy Cahill, who is challenging Patrick for re-election, and other government officials have questioned giving state and federal assistance to Kraft because he is tied for number 468 on Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s billionaires.

Patrick said the development project would create 4,500 permanent jobs and 4,000 construction jobs. He also billed it as “the largest shovel-ready commercial space in the commonwealth.”

The governor said the state is already working to lure some specific tenants to the site, so “this investment makes a lot of sense.”

A government watchdog group would not comment on the specifics of the Kraft donations but said the issue underscores the need for public financing of political campaigns.

Under such a scheme, individuals making a tax-return checkoff, or a state making a general appropriation, would finance campaigns with strict spending limits.

“There’d clearly be no strings attached, no questions asked, because it’s not from people with interests before the state,” said Pam Wilmot, director of Common Cause Massachusetts.