Gray & Green
Analyzing California’s million-dollar man
A million dollars a month. That’s about how much Governor Gray Davis has accepted from campaign contributors since taking office. A million dollars a month. Just stop for a second and contemplate how much money that is, how much time and attention must be focused on gathering so much cash, and what it says about the state of politics in California.
Never in history has California’s top elected officer accepted so much money from so many individuals, organizations and corporations who seek to influence what bills get signed into law, how aggressively they are regulated and how the public’s resources are used.
Like most politicians these days, Davis and his people steadfastly deny there is any connection between contributions and official actions. And they’re always able to point to cases in which the governor acted against the interests of his donors. But there is no denying that contributors want something, and that often they get it.
As you peruse the list of Davis contributors, you’ll see the most powerful names in California, people and entities that control the wealth and political agenda of the world’s sixth largest economy, a state that sets the parameters of public discourse for much of the world.
Do contributions buy access and action? Frankly, that’s not a question that we’re trying to answer with this project. Our intent isn’t so much to condemn Davis, as it is to point out where there is a confluence of interests between the governor and his supporters—as well as to present the sheer magnitude of the situation—and to let you draw your own conclusions.
Reporters Margo Whitmire and Elizabeth Buckley have spent the last month combing through contributions and legislative actions—and interviewing dozens of Capitol watchers—to identify some illuminating examples of contributors getting favorable treatment from the Davis administration.
We chose to present selected examples covering a broad range of areas. There were probably dozens more questionable examples we could have presented, many of which have been exposed by other media outlets throughout Davis’ tenure. In many cases, we raise questions without really answering them, because in most cases, it’s impossible to know exactly what drives Davis’ decision-making process or how much he influences his appointees.
So then why do this project? Why speculate on our governor’s motives? The simple answer: that’s our job. It’s the job of the journalist to give people the information they need to better understand their world. We live in a cynical age, in which many people just take political influence-peddling for granted, but only when we confront the problem head-on can we begin to address it.
A few words on this project: For space reasons, we limited our listings to contributions over $4,000 (you can find the complete listings at cal-access.ss.ca.gov if you’re curious). Contributions are listed in descending order by contribution amount, with the most recent six-month cycle first, followed by the previous two years.
In the information presented, we tried to keep things terse and to the point. There’s little from Davis’ people defending his actions, or from critics condemning them. The idea was just to lay everything out, highlight a few examples and let you decide whether this is the system of campaign finance that you want for California.
—Steven T. Jones
2001 contributions received so far: $5.8 million
2000 total contributions received: $14 million
Money in bank: $30.5 million
05/02/2001 — CA STATE PIPE TRADES COUNCIL PAC, $50,000.00
05/02/2001 — SOUTHERN CA PIPE TRADES PAC DISTRICT COUNCIL #16, $50,000.00
05/02/2001 — STATE BUILDING & CONSTRUCTION TRADES COUNCIL OF CA PAC, $25,000.00
Several labor-supported bills are sitting on Davis’ desk right now. Senate Bill 40 would increase unemployment benefits, Senate Bill 71 would increase workers’ compensation benefits, and Senate Bill 25 would create an agency to enforce labor and civil rights laws. Although Davis has disappointed labor leaders by vetoing some key bills over the last two years, unions wrote big checks this year in the hope of getting their measures signed.
03/19/2001 — E & J GALLO WINERY, $25,000.00
E & J Gallo Industries and other wine and beer manufacturers are supporting Assembly Bill 1298, which will raise their licensing fees. Why would they want to do a thing like that? To keep alcohol regulations at the state level, where their buddy Davis ensures nobody comes down too hard on them.
02/21/2001 — HEWLETT PACKARD, $25,000.00
03/07/2001 — INTEL CORP, $25,000.00
03/07/2001 — MICROSOFT CORPORATION, $12,500.00
06/27/2001 — MICROSOFT CORPORATION, $10,000.00
According to his office, Davis opposes taxation of the Internet, which would be banned by Senate Bill 394. Intel Corporation, Hewlett-Packard, America Online, Oracle, Microsoft and Verizon are a few of Davis’ largest contributors this year. Coincidence?
Also, California is a party to the federal government’s ongoing anti-trust lawsuit against Microsoft Corporation. Will that continue?
03/23/2001 — TOSCO CORPORATION, $10,000.00
The State Water Board(the members of which are appointed by Davis) is playing in tainted waters. On March 7, it affirmed a decision to relax industrial discharge permits, allowing for more highly toxic dioxin in California waters. The Tosco Avon Refinery (which was since purchased by Ultramar, a company that gave Davis $10,000 this year) emits up to five times more dioxin into the San Francisco Bay now than before the change. California already falls behind most of the nation in complying with the Clean Water Act, but Senate Bill 710 proposed a statewide clean-up of the waters that need it most. Not surprisingly, after Davis received $55,000 in contributions from Tosco, Water Board officials intercepted it in the Senate Appropriations Committee, arguing it was too costly, and the bill was placed in the suspense file.
10/20/2000 — BING, STEPHEN L., $250,000.00
Hollywood has sought to give Davisa starring role in furthering its interests. Handing over a collective fistful of close to $500,000, with independent contributions coming from moguls like Steven Spielberg and Stephen Bing, filmmakers have embraced the Democratic governor. In turn, Davis signed into law Senate Bill 2061, which is “committed to enhancing the California economic climate by keeping film industry jobs in this state"; Assembly Joint Resolution 23, which calls on the president and Congress to “evaluate the losses in California’s filmmaking … and promote legislation that would persuade these businesses to stay in California"; and Assembly Bill 484, which provides a tax credit of 10 percent of the amount of certain wages and salaries paid to employees and contractors involved in “qualified” television and movie productions. Lights, camera, cash, action.
03/06/2000 — METABOLIFE INT’L INC., $50,000.00
02/26/2000 — METABOLIFE INT’L INC., $50,000.00
Last year’s Assembly Bill 2294would have required warning labels on products that contained ephedrine. Two days after the bill was introduced, Metabolife International Inc. gave Governor Davis $50,000. A week later, they gave him another $50,000. When AB 2294 reached Governor Davis’ desk, he vetoed it.
If the money was intended to influence Davis’ position on the bill, $100,000 was probably a bargain for the company, which stood to lose far more money if American dieters had been scared away from the latest miracle in a bottle. You see, ephedrine is listed on Metabolife as ma huang, which sounds a lot less threatening. It might sound benign, but it is a powerful stimulant, and even small amounts of the drug have been associated with strokes, heart attacks and psychoses.
AB 2294 sought to protect the consumer from misleading labeling that promotes an assumption of safety with terms like “herbal” or “all-natural.” What was Davis’ argument against AB 2294? He declared it a matter of interstate commerce and pointed the finger at Congress for their lack of responsibility in regulation.
01/10/2000 — CA HEALTHCARE ASSOC. PAC, $25,000.00
Assembly Bill 351 is a resurrection of Senate Bill 330, which was vetoed by former Governor Wilson. It puts any HMO mergers, acquisition or change of control under the scrutiny of the attorney general, since health insurance regulators have no jurisdiction over HMOs. As reported in the LA Times, HMO executives raised between $125,000 and $600,000 during a fund-raiser for Davis in July 1999. Also reported by the Times, Davis is known to have met with lawmakers three days later to ask them to slow down HMO reform. In the second half of 2000, the California Healthcare Association raised $30,000 for Davis; Blue Cross, $30,000; Cigna Healthcare, $31,000; Health Net, $27,500; and Blue Shield, $21,000, just to name a few. Shortly thereafter, Davis vetoed the bill.
07/28/2000 — SIERRA PACIFIC INDUSTRIES, $15,000.00
Environmentalists have long sought to ban the clear-cutting of forests until its impacts can be thoroughly studied, something that would have been accomplished by last year’s Assembly Bill 717. Clear-cutting is currently legal only on private lands, and the largest holder of private forests in California is Sierra Pacific Industries, which threw a fund-raiser for Davis on July 13, 1999, that netted the governor a cool $129,000. After that, Davis said he would only sign clear-cutting reforms that were the product of compromise between environmentalists and loggers. Meetings predictably went nowhere, and the bill died in committee because of the threatened veto. With that threat still hanging out there, no significant clear-cutting reforms were proposed this year.
03/10/2000 — AMERICAN COUNCIL OF LIFE INSURANCE PAC, $15,000.00
Existing legislation requires that solicitors disclose who they are and what they want as soon as you open the door or pick up the phone. Insurance companies are exempt, supposedly because they’re not selling a tangible good. Senate Bill 1359 would have changed the law to include such “intangibles.” Insurance companies registered their opposition to the measure, and then they put their money where their mouths were. The Association of California Life & Health Insurance Companies had given $10,000. The American Insurance Association gave $22,000. The American Council of Life Insurance gave $40,000. And several individual insurance companies gave hundreds of thousands of dollars more. Davis vetoed SB 1359, agreeing with his contributors that the regulations already placed on insurance companies were enough.
09/12/2000 — EDISON INTERNATIONAL, $10,000.00
Just as the state’s mishandling of the energy crisis was driving Pacific Gas & Electric into bankruptcy court, Davis announced a deal to bail out California’s other major investor-owned utility, Southern California Edison. Seen as an overly generous taxpayer giveaway, the Legislature virtually ignored the plan. Was Davis simply helping out an entity that gave him $15,000 last year and another $15,000 to the Democratic Party? Compounding concerns that Davis was overly sympathetic to Edison was the fact that Davis then hired a pair of Democratic political operatives to be his chief energy advisers, operatives who had just come from working for Edison.
12/07/2000 — CA CATTLEMEN’S ASSN., $5,000.00
The Governor vetoed Senate Bill 1834, a bill that required the state Water Board to adopt a water quality control plan, a guide for prescribing procedures by which important resource waters will be identified and protected. The California Cattlemen’s Association opposed this bill, concerned about its regulation of farms. Coincidentally, the CCA contributed $5,000 to Davis, and he claimed the bill was “redundant and unnecessary.”
09/05/2000 — CONSULTING ENGINEERS & LAND SURVEYORS PAC, $5,000.00
07/05/2000 — CONSULTING ENGINEERS & LAND SURVEYORS PAC, $5,000.00
01/20/2000 — CONSULTING ENGINEERS & LAND SURVEYORS PAC, $5,000.00
The San Fernando spineflower was thought to be extinct, and was then discovered in Calabasas in the future home of a golf course. Because it was “extinct,” it had no protection under the Endangered Species Act, and the developers could bulldoze bravely on. Because of the technicality, the San Fernando spineflower, lost and regained, could be lost again. Assembly Bill 1758 would have included species believed to be extinct among those with protection from developers, in the event that they were not actually extinct. Development interests subsequently came out in force to register their opposition. The California Building Industry Association gave $40,000. Consulting Engineers and Land Surveyors of California gave $16,000. California Business Property Association gave $121,000. Western Growers Association gave $35,000. Then Davis vetoed AB 1758.
06/26/2000 — ENRON CAPITAL & TRADE RES - ESG, $5,000.00
06/05/2000 — ENRON CORP., $5,000.00
Before Davis started calling the owners of California power plants “pirates” and “thieves,” he was calling them campaign contributors. Last year, super villain Enron gave $10,000 to Davis and $37,885 to the Democratic Party, Calpine gave Davis $19,000, Duke Energy and Dynegy each gave $10,000, and Reliant Energy kicked in $11,000 to the party. Under pressure from consumer groups, Davis and many legislators stopped taking energy contributions in January—nearly five months after joint legislative hearings outlined price gouging and a looming crisis, hearings that prompted little notice or action by the governor.
07/28/2000 — SIERRA FOREST PRODUCTS<, $5,000.00
The California Forestry Association sponsored Assembly Joint Resolution 69, which could allow members to cut down more trees, and two weeks later cut a $75,000 check to Davis, who later signed the measure.
CFA’s contribution doesn’t appear on Davis’ list because a follow-up letter from CFA indicated that it was just acting as an intermediary for its members, including Sierra Forest Products, whose $5,000 doesn’t catch the eye nearly as much as CFA’s big check must have.