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Krafts recently gave to Patrick

Amid footbridge plans, donations to governor, party

By Andrea Estes
Globe Staff / November 13, 2009

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As state officials pushed plans last month to spend $9 million in federal stimulus money for a walking bridge near Patriot Place, the sprawling Foxborough complex owned by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Kraft and his wife contributed $12,000 to the political accounts of Governor Deval Patrick, Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray, and the state Democratic Party.

They were the maximum donations allowed and represented more than a third of what the Krafts have given to state political candidates or committees since 2004.

It was not the first time that Kraft made political contributions to Patrick and the Democratic Party as he was winning help from the state. Last December, Kraft wrote checks for $5,500 - $5,000 to the party, and $500 to Patrick - just after the administration designated 500 acres near Gillette Stadium as a growth district, making it eligible for fast-track approvals and infrastructure funding.

The most recent donations were made between Oct. 19 and Oct. 30, according to records of the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance. On Oct. 29, the Metropolitan Planning Organization, a regional planning board that decides how to spend federal transportation money, gave initial approval to the $9 million bridge plan. It returns to the planning board for final approval next week.

State officials, who defend the plan as a worthy effort at economic development, bypassed other projects across the state to build the footbridge, which would connect parking lots on either side of Route 1, near the stadium.

The plan sparked outrage among some legislators and taxpayers, who argued that the state should not be giving scarce public dollars to businesses or individuals who do not need the money. Kraft is tied for number 468 on Forbes Magazine’s list of the world’s billionaires.

State Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, who is mounting an independent candidacy for governor, said that, given the state’s financial challenges, a footbridge is not “the right place to make [a $9 million] investment.’’

Kraft spokesman Stacey James declined to comment.

Greg Bialecki, the state’s secretary of housing and economic development, said he was unaware that Kraft had made thousands of dollars in political donations around the time state officials were asking for funding for the footbridge.

But he defended the plan. With the governor’s backing, he said, he has been working for two years helping to advance Kraft’s plan to create a huge office park, up to 1.5 million square feet of office or research space, across the street from the stadium. The location is one of only a few spots in Massachusetts large enough to lure a major corporation, he said.

Even though the proposed office park has no tenants yet, the footbridge project should proceed, Bialecki said. Companies are reluctant to make major investments before infrastructure is in place, he said. The footbridge would provide employees access to restaurants, shops, and other amenities across Route 1.

State officials have made a policy decision to use tax dollars to pay only for public infrastructure improvements that make it more attractive for businesses to locate here. Other states pay much more, Bialecki said, even for private buildings themselves.

“We don’t do that,’’ he said. “But one of the things we feel strongly is that to compete, we ought to publicly pay for the infrastructure that goes with the buildings.’’