DAVIS GATHERS CASH HOARD TO FIGHT RECALL
by Jill Stewart
American Reporter Correspondent
Los Angeles, Calif.
SACRAMENTO -- As the effort to recall California Gov. Gray Davis moves into overdrive and the noxious consultant Chris Lehane - who helped President Bill Clinton formulate his creepy Monica Lewinsky strategy - prepares to launch an assault on the truth unlike anything we've witnessed in a California election, a phrase keeps circling inside my head. Follow the money.
Most political junkies know by now that Lehane and the rest of Davis' advisors plan to paint the recall as right-wingers stealing an election from liberals. Lehane is said by some to be the most negative campaigner in the United States, a guy who will shimmy so low to win that Davis - the most vicious campaigner California has seen in modern times - imported Lehane from back East.
Many voters won't easily dismiss their own boiling fury at Davis, nor at the $38 billion in debt that materialized on Davis' watch after our fibbing governor and catatonic leaders like Democratic Sen. John Burton of San Francisco insisted things were under control.
Even so, if you are tempted to buy into any of the Davis camp's whoppers - such as the one making rounds that a recall "hurts" California's economy (compared to how rosy things are by keeping Davis), merely remember to follow the money.
Why, for instance, is Mighty Morphin Power Rangers gazillionaire Haim Saban giving $100,000 to ensure that Davis remains governor, and why did spoiled rich kid Stephen Bing fork over $100,000, and why should Zenith Insurance Co. of Woodland Hills have handed Davis $100,000?
Why would John and Rebecca Moores, owners of the San Diego Padres, give $100,000; why would two Service Employees International Unions give a total of $200,000, and why would Jerry Perenchio, CEO of Univision, cough up $50,000 for a governor who is clearly incompetent?
Why did the California Professional Firefighters part with $118,000 (for answer, see Page 1, SF Chronicle, 7/10/03, by Robert Salladay, at www.sfgate.com), and why did Stewart and Lynda Resnick, who derive their riches from Teleflora and incredibly garish dust-catchers they sell via The Franklin Mint, give up $50,000?
Why did Roland E. Arnall, chairman of Ameriquest of Orange County, which lends high-interest dough to bad credit risks, convince his firm to give $50,000; why did Richard S. Ziman send $25,000 from Arden Realty LP, plus give $25,000 personally, and why did aging Beverly Hills developer Nate Shapell part with $25,000?
For starters, many in this bunch make up the Westside money cabal in Los Angeles who created Gray Davis. They are far too rich and disconnected from their fellow travelers to experience normal human shame. For them, Davis is a 401K from which they are not yet ready to withdraw.
"Good God," says Shawn Steel, former chairman of the California Republican Party, "these people previously poured millions into Gray Davis, and as they said in Tammany Hall, 'Once he's bought, he ought to stay bought.'"
A slightly kinder take comes from Democrat Kathleen Connell, who stepped down as State Controller in January after spending months blasting her fellow Democrats for their unchecked overspending, which Connell says clearly caused California's budget debacle.
Connell was a fiscal toughie who, had Davis listened to her, never would have permitted California to spiral into the reckless "get out alive" budgets Davis and the Democrats keep creating.
"You are going to see eight or so major players behind Gray during this recall, giving directly, or through vendors, or subsidiaries, and they are Haim Saban, Stephen Bing, [grocery magnate] Ron Berkle, [SunAmerica billionaire] Eli Broad and others," says Connell.
"The Democrats would lose their political control," Connell says. "Their greatest fear is if he's thrown out it destroys Democratic solidarity and it would create an opportunity for a Republican to be elected governor."
If these multimillionaires and billionaires avert what would be the second recall of a governor in the U.S., they will gain unprecedented attention from Davis until 2006. That gushing gubernatorial gratefulness could come in awfully handy for wealthy Democrats and Republicans alike.
Take Jerry Perenchio, chairman of Spanish-language Univision, who a few years ago spent more than $1 million trying to stop English immersion, Proposition 227. (Why lose all those Univision customers by having immigrant kids in California learn English?)
erenchio needs help from Davis appointees on the Coastal Commission because he finally got caught by the Commission operating his non-permitted, illegal, nine-hole golf course next to Malibu Lagoon - secretly built for his wife behind eight-foot rock walls.
In filings long ago, Perenchio told the Coastal Commission he was using the 10 acres for a "jogging trail." But the illegal golf course was an inside joke among L.A.'s wealthiest, who kept mum as the hated Coastal Commission dumbly failed to grasp where poisons running into Malibu Lagoon were coming from.
Acording to Wetlands Action Network spokeswoman Marcia Hanscom, Perenchio's been spewing heavy pesticides onto his secret greens for two decades while children romp in adjacent sand and tidal pools - directly in the path of Perenchio's filthy runoff.
She notes, "The reason for $100,000 going from Perenchio to Davis is pretty obvious." It's hardly any wonder why initially, Coastal Commission staffers wanted to give Perenchio a permit-after-the-fact. But at a meeting on July 10, the Commission delayed any vote indefinitely after Hanscom and the Sierra Club said they would sue. Hanscom laughs, "The commission got so embarrassed, I don't believe they will rule on this until after the recall." Perenchio is hardly the only name on the Grease Gray donor list who may one day need a delicate personal intervention from the governor. Look at the growing mess facing Padres owner Moores, one of Davis' earliest backers, who Davis rewarded by appointing to the UC Board of Regents. Moores' software company, Peregrine Systems, is under SEC investigation and is in bankruptcy protection after a massive scandal for cooking its books. Moores resigned as Peregrine chairman recently. Company officials told a San Diego newspaper they are now deciding whether to sue Moores and other directors to recover upwards of $100 million. Republicans in Congress are probing the events that led Moores to sell more than 18 million shares of stock, for more than $600 million, while the company's business health was being faked. Peregrine officials insist Arthur Andersen, their former accountants, cooked the books without their knowledge. If federal blowback affects Moores' many business dealings in California, he could use a powerful friend in Sacramento. A governor would be very nice. Another favorite on my list of purely altruistic givers to stop the recall is Zenith Insurance Co., whose chairman Stanley Zax told Associated Press the $100,000 his company gave is unrelated to any state business. Zenith, a major provider of workers compensation insurance in California, spent $50,000 on lobbying in recent months. I was at some of the heavily lobbied Sacramento hearings on workers compensation this year. Workers comp is becoming the next big Democratic disaster, with insurance rates up 1000% in many cases even though California provides among the worst care in the nation. Thousands of small businesses, non-profits and independent companies are in peril. Republicans are fighting to deeply reform workers compensation with bills like AB1579, which copies states where worker's comp is inexpensive and yet fully covers the injured. Well, duh! But ah, the Democrats. The Dems keep gutting the Republican reforms, yet are only tinkering with fixing the crisis themselves.
Why? Because true, deep reform is opposed by insurers, unions and healthcare groups who are bleeding workers comp dry. Despite huffy claims by Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi that he will fix workers comp, I say the Dems lack the guts to stand up to their big campaign donors—the insurers, unions and healthcare groups. I predict, as a result of Democratic spinelessness, no major reforms in 2003. Yet Stanley Zax, chairman of Zenith Insurance, insisted to Associated Press that his $100,000 gift to save Davis from recall has nothing to do with state business. Please. Who else is passionate about saving Gray Davis? Stephen Bing, the brat New York heir and sometimes film producer who keeps impregnating beautiful women and getting mired in weird scandals for doing so, gave $100,000. You may recall Bing's boorish behavior when he insisted that global beauty Elizabeth Hurley have their child paternity-tested, because Bing thought Hurley might be a floozy. Turns out that Bing - who is also the father of the baby in the Kirk Kirkorian-Lisa Bonder paternity battle—is the real floozy. Bing's the last person you'd place on a list of people worried about Good Government.
Shawn Steel theorizes that Bing "is a huge fan of Gray Davis because he's a brain-dead, party-down-San Francisco, never-worked a-day-in-his-life, bad-news guy. Bing gives me intriguing Socialist thoughts, like, 'He doesn't deserve all that wealth.'"
Bing bought his way into social circles in Washington and Sacramento that require huge donations. Now, with the Democrats out in Washington, California's shell-shocked political climbers - Bing, Saban, the Resnicks and others - are focused like lasers on saving their power in Sacramento.
also see on the Grease Gray list very rich trial lawyers like the brilliant Joseph W. Cotchett of Burlingame, who has good reason to believe that California's backwards tort system, which allows massive verdicts for modest wrongs, will never be reformed under gutless Davis. And I see big developers who know Davis will say California needs open space, but then will allow awful development in the back door.
I'm quite sure these fabulously rich Davis loyalists really do hope California turns around someday. But priorities come first.
And the first question clearly is: what about me?
Columnist Jill Stewart covers California government. A longtime contributor to New Times and a former Los Angeles Times staff writer, this is her first appearance in The American Reporter.