DALLAS - A bill setting the first limits on campaign contributions in New Mexico is awaiting the signature of Gov. Bill Richardson, who is defending himself against claims of receiving "pay-to-play" money from the bond industry.

SB 116 won final passage from the Legislature on Saturday as lawmakers concluded their 2009 session. The bill limits campaign contributions from individuals to $5,000 for candidates for statewide office in the primary season, with another $5,000 allowed in the general election campaign. Legislative candidates are limited to $2,300 in each season from an individual.

Lawmakers also approved a budget that calls for spending $5.5 billion for public education and general government, including $140 million in capital improvements statewide. The budget required lawmakers to close a $450 million shortfall.

If Richardson signs the campaign funding bill, only four other states will lack limits on state campaign contributions: Illinois, Oregon, Utah, and Virginia.

The legislation also requires additional campaign finance disclosure reports by candidates and political committees and creates a searchable online database of state contractors. The limits would take effect immediately after the 2010 general election.

Richardson - who has received several campaign contributions of more than $100,000 - had proposed contribution limits as part of ethics reform proposals but has not indicated whether he would sign SB 116.

A federal grand jury in Albuquerque is investigating payments to Richardson's political action committees by swap advisor CDR Financial Products. CDR was hired to work on bond issues for the state's so-called GRIP bond project, the largest in the state's history.

GRIP - Governor Richardson's Investment Partnership - included outlays for transportation projects, including the controversial Rail Runner commuter train service inaugurated last year after several budget overruns. Political detractors joked that GRIP stood for "Get Richardson Into the Presidency."

Another bill awaiting Richardson's signature would create a 25-member Retirement Systems Solvency Task Force to study the soundness of the $9 billion New Mexico Public Employees Retirement Association, the $6.6 billion New Mexico Educational Retirement Board, and the Retiree Health Care Fund.

Recommendations from the committee would be submitted to the Legislature's joint Investments and Pensions Oversight Committee or other appropriate interim committee, to the Legislative Finance Committee, and to Richardson by Oct. 1.

"PERA has told the Legislature that we support studying PERA's benefit levels along with other associated issues. The issues are complex and deserve in-depth study," Cynthia D. Borrego, PERA board chairwoman, wrote to plan participants in February.

When the legislative session opened, Richardson had withdrawn his nomination as President Obama's Commerce secretary amid the investigation of his campaign contributions, some of which were to funds designed to promote Richardson's national aspirations.

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