Secretary of State Bill Jones on Thursday slammed Gov. Gray Davis for using taxpayer money to hire two communications consultants and said the advisors must disclose their income sources to reveal any conflicts of interest.
Jones, a Republican who hopes to unseat Davis next year, said the governor "undermined the public trust" when he began paying Chris Lehane and Mark Fabiani $30,000 a month to advise him on the power crisis and other matters.
Best known for their political work in the Clinton administration, Lehane and Fabiani have served since April as consultants for Southern California Edison, one of the utilities in the vortex of the ongoing energy crisis.
In their new role, the duo's advice to the governor could "materially benefit their personal financial interests" in Edison, Jones said in a letter asking the Fair Political Practices Commission to investigate.
The letter, endorsed by some Republicans in the Legislature, says the advisors should "recuse themselves from participation in energy policy discussions" because of their ties to Edison.
Lehane, chief spokesman for former Vice President Al Gore during his presidential campaign, denied any conflict, saying Edison and the governor share a mutual goal.
Specifically, Lehane noted that Davis and Edison have struck a memorandum of understanding on state purchase of the utility's transmission grid.
"Both parties are in agreement on what needs to be done," Lehane said. "And we've made clear from day one any potential conflicts that might exist."
In a jab at Jones, he added: "I think people's time would be better spent working for what's in the public interest as opposed to engaging in partisan politics."
Hired on May 21 after the departure of Communications Director Phil Trounstine, Fabiani and Lehane run a Washington-based strategic communications firm and are known for sharp-edged commentary during the presidential campaign.
Republican lawmakers, outraged that Davis would use taxpayer dollars to hire the advisors, have denounced them as "attack dogs" and "political hacks."
A few GOP legislators have even threatened to hold up passage of the $100-billion state budget in retaliation for the hiring.
GOP Chairman Shawn Steel has accused Davis of recruiting the two to beef up his approval ratings, which have slumped as the power crisis has deepened.
On Thursday, consumer activists echoed that charge and said the governor should pay the advisors out of his personal campaign account, which totaled $26 million at year's end and grows at a clip of about $1 million a month.
"It looks to me like their job is to protect the governor's political career," said Harvey Rosenfield of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. "He should pay them out of his own pocket. It's not like he can't afford it."
Jones Wants Duo to Tell Sources of Income
Jones contends that the consultants are, in effect, "public officials" and, as such, are required to file statements of economic interest disclosing their income.
Ben Davidian, a former chairman of the Fair Political Practices Commission who appeared at Jones' news conference, agreed.
And Roger Brown, a lawyer who concentrates on political law, said the pair might be bound by the reporting rule if they "perform duties normally required of a person in a staff position."
Davis spokesman Roger Salazar said Lehane and Fabiani are exempt because they are "consultants, not permanent, full-time employees."
He added, however, that the advisors "have been very open" about their relationship with Edison and would "be happy to disclose whatever is required."
At his Capitol news conference, Jones also suggested that Davis' senior political strategist, Garry South, be required to file a financial disclosure statement.
South, who is not paid with taxpayer dollars, was quick to respond.
"This is old, old terrain," he said. "But I guess when you're lagging like he's lagging in a race like this, you have to dredge up anything you can to make a splash."