California governor Gray Davis has turned Sacramento into the Sotheby’s of public policy. Helpful rulings, gubernatorial sit-downs and signed legislation regularly flow to those who pay top dollar. This Democrat’s reelection will depend on whether voters can stomach seeing public favors traded for private funds. Consider just these examples:
On February 16, 2000, the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board restricted Tosco’s disposal of dioxin into the San Francisco Bay. The very next day, the oil company gave $55,000 to Davis’s reelection campaign. The following June 20, the panel reconvened with a new, Davis-appointed member in attendance. As the San Jose Mercury News reported, the board reversed itself and let Tosco’s refinery increase by 400 percent its discharge of this carcinogen into the Bay.
Shortly before California’s electricity crisis erupted, power executives asked to see Davis. “It was point-blank put to them that for him to have dinner with them, they had to put together $100,000,” trade-association director Gary Ackerman said. Calpine, Dynegy, Enron, and other companies bought tickets to a May 31, 2000 Davis event. But when receipts fell short of $100,000, industry sources say gubernatorial staffers called the Independent Energy Producers for the balance. Records indicate that IEP’s check for $25,000 followed.
Davis appointees on the CalPERS state pension board granted investment contracts to top Davis donors. The Ron Burkle/Yucaipa Companies, for instance, have given Davis $600,000. They subsequently received $700 million in pension assets to manage. Last March 28, CalPERS agreed to invest $100 million in Premier Pacific Vineyards. Invitations reportedly went out in April for a May 2, $2,500-per-ticket Davis fundraiser at the home of Premier’s co-CEO, Richard Wollack. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Wollack also gave the Davis campaign $15,000 last October 11, 24 days after the CalPERS board initially approved the winery project, pending negotiations.
Just days ago, Rod Diridon — the Davis-appointed head of California’s High Speed Rail Authority — invited “high speed ground transportation advocates” to a fundraiser at his Santa Clara home. Suggested donation: $2,000-per-participating-group. “The Gov’s staff needs the names, etc. of those attending by Wednesday PM,” September 18, Diridon’s e-mail continued. On September 19, Davis signed a bill placing on the 2004 ballot a $9.95 billion bond measure to finance bullet trains from San Diego to Sacramento. On September 20, Davis planned to attend a $50,000 event with rail executives who “will build, operate and maintain the system,” Diridon wrote. After that morning’s Chronicle exposed the shindig, Davis — who once ridiculed rapid rail as a “Buck Rogers” idea — canceled the affair.
Davis’s quid-pro-quocracy has prompted Bill Simon Jr., his GOP challenger, to dub him a “coin-operated governor.” Simon says that if elected he will “tear down the toll booth in front of the governor’s office.” His campaign even established e-gray.org, a satirical auction website where people can pay to play with Davis.
Simon’s own ethical clouds vanished September 12 when a Los Angeles court overturned a jury’s $78 million fraud judgment against his family’s investment house. The vacated decision “was not supported by the evidence and cannot stand,” Superior Court judge James Chalfant’s ruling stated.
All of this has made Davis testy. When Sacramento Bee writers suggested at a September 19 editorial board meeting that he should disclose his appointment calendar, Davis snapped: “Why don’t you go to bed with me?”
Davis’s outburst echoes a recent Los Angeles Times cartoon by Mike Ramirez. Dressed in skimpy female clothing, Davis leans into a prospective john’s car and says: “Prostitution? Noooo. I like to call it governing.”
Simon’s polls suggest that Californians don’t like seeing their governor in a metaphorical miniskirt and high heels. A September 17-20 Public Opinion Strategies survey of 800 likely voters shows that only 40 percent of Californians favor Davis’ re-election while 35 percent prefer Simon (margin of error: +/- 3.4 percent). Davis’s popularity has been mired in the low 40s all year, a chilly place for an incumbent.
California voters may ice Gray Davis once and for all on Election Day. That would signal America’s political class that citizens are sick of officials who believe in equality before the law, so long as you bring your checkbook.