Bill Simon will appear with Gray Davis on October 7 at a gubernatorial debate sponsored by the Los Angeles Times. Simon should bring to the debate this week’s article in the San Jose Mercury News on Davis’s comical graft — “Davis’ fervor to raise funds irks many backers,” reads the headline.
Many Democrats, according to this story in the Mercury News, find the governor’s fundraising astonishing in its over-the-top crassness. “They commiserate about Gov. Gray Davis and his zealous fundraising the way veterans share war stories,” writes reporter Dion Nissenbaum.
The Mercury News relates a revealing story about Davis’s shakedown of Steve Kirsch, the founder of Infoseek. Kirsch, who had already given Davis $22,000 for his re-election campaign, called the governor recently to discuss with him the merits of an environmental bill. Davis quickly returned the call, but the first words out of his mouth to Kirsch were: “How come you weren’t at my last fundraiser?”
This “startled” Kirsch, reports Nissenbaum, who notes that Kirsch’s experience mirrors that of Wayne Johnson, the president of the California Teachers Association. In a policy meeting on education at Davis’s state capitol office, Johnson got hit with a stark request from Davis for $1 million. This flabbergasted Johnson, not only because the hard sell occurred under the capitol dome, but because CTA legislation was pending before the governor. Davis didn’t get the money — and didn’t support the legislation.
Davis’s use of state government for fundraising purposes has clearly hardened into habit. The Mercury News reports that since 1973 Davis “has raised an astonishing $116 million.” In the last three years, he has netted $56 million.
How did such an acharismatic, visionless political figure pull this off? By hanging a For Sale sign on his administration. Even his supporters find the line between state policy and his fundraising interests hard to distinguish. “In more than three dozen interviews with the Mercury News, many Democrats, donors and former Davis fundraisers said they were shocked when discussions with the governor and his staff were clouded by questions about how much they had given to Davis,” reports Nissenbaum.
Chris Martin, managing partner of the Cannery marketplace in San Francisco, told the Mercury News that at an interview for a state commission slot “he was grilled by the governor’s first appointments secretary about his political donations.” Martin said the first question in the interview was “How much did you donate to the governor?” and the second was “How much did you give to the other guy?”
Energy company executives — a group Davis has frequently called “greedy” — say that the governor has wrung them for money. “It was point-blank put to them that for him to have dinner with them they had to put together $100,000, that that’s the price for having dinner with the governor,” Gary Ackerman, executive director of the Western Power Trading Forum, said to the Mercury News.
Calpine, Dynegy, Reliant, Enron, Duke, Thermo-EcoTek and Williams dutifully ponied up funds for Davis’s re-election. But their contributions fell below $100,000, reports the Mercury News. So Davis officials told the companies’ trade group, the Independent Energy Producers, that it needed to make up the difference before Davis would show up at the group’s fundraiser. The IEP then wrote a check for $25,000 and Davis appeared.
Simon’s description of Davis as the “coin-operated” governor is hardly hyperbole. At the October 7 debate, he will have reams of evidence to prove it.
Though some Republicans are giving up on Simon — many of them, ironically, are the very same Republicans who lecture conservatives on the need to be “team players” and focus on “winning” — the race remains competitive. Even last week’s Democrat-friendly Field Poll found that most Californians disapprove of Davis. Those numbers can only go up as more Californians learn that many of the critics of Davis’s fundraising aren’t Republicans, but his fellow Democrats and even donors.