In language usually reserved for private encounters, Gov. Pete Wilson publicly scolded California manufacturers Tuesday for contributing to the campaigns of lawmakers who have failed to toe the pro-business line in the Legislature.
In remarks to the California Manufacturers Assn. and to reporters afterward, Wilson said the business leaders are "damn fools" to support the current Democratic majority in both houses of the Legislature, which he contends has been hostile to the needs of the state's business community.
"Support those who are supportive," Wilson told the executives, urging them to compile a "report card" on how individual lawmakers vote on key issues. "Don't support the people who have not been friends--those who have in fact been indifferent."
Wilson described his appeal as "blunt" and conceded that some would call it "harsh." But he said it was justified.
"We've got to change the laws," he said. "If the present lawmakers won't change them, I tell you you're damn fools to support the present lawmakers." Change, he added, "doesn't just happen."
With the once-a-decade redrawing of district lines scrambling the political map and voter-approved term limits hanging over the heads of legislators, Wilson predicted that this year will see the most dramatic turnover in the Legislature in 30 years. He said it is time for the business community to join his effort to overturn the Democratic majorities that have controlled the Legislature for two decades.
Although Republicans have held the governor's office since 1982, and Wilson advocated a record $7.5-billion tax increase a year ago, the governor has repeatedly blamed the Legislature for what he says is a wasteful workers' compensation system, burdensome regulations and high taxes.
"Your success depends on meeting the needs of your customers," he told the company officials. "That should be a proper measure of success for government as well.
"We've got to say to those who ask for campaign contributions, that they have to have justified those campaign contributions by performance. If in fact they have been part of the problem rather than part of the solution, then I see no point in enabling them to continue."
After the speech, Wilson told reporters that he is tired of seeing the business community "play both sides" by contributing to Democrats simply because they are in power, not because they support business.
The manufacturers group, while not a top-ranking Sacramento contributor in its own right, represents hundreds of companies that donate on their own, often following the lead of the association.
During the most recent complete election cycle, ending in 1990, the group reported contributions totaling $36,250, according to Capitol on Line, a private firm that tracks campaign donations. Of that amount, more than one-third, or $14,750, went to Democratic lawmakers, including a $1,000 contribution to Assembly Speaker Willie Brown of San Francisco.
Brown, asked separately Tuesday to respond to Wilson's comments, said it was shortsighted and inaccurate for Wilson to suggest that the Democrats have blocked the business community's agenda.
Brown noted that it was Democrats who provided the lion's share of votes for Wilson's budget last summer, for Wilson's proposal to create a California Environmental Protection Agency, and for proposals that Wilson supported to put $2.8 billion in bonds on the June ballot to finance construction of school and university buildings. Many Republicans opposed all three efforts.
Brown also suggested that Wilson's advice for the manufacturers was treading close to the legal line between legitimate political behavior and bribery. The idea of compiling a report card on every legislator and then telling lawmakers they will get campaign money only if their votes match the manufacturers' agenda sounds like tactics that "people get indicted for," Brown said.
But the president of the manufacturers association, William Campbell, said Wilson's suggestion was simply "good, sound judgment." He said it was a "great American tradition" for organizations to back those candidates who support their political point of view.
Campbell, however, distanced himself from Wilson's attack on the Democrats. The former longtime Republican legislator has close ties to both parties and said the group will seek out and support pro-business Democrats.