Suit Targets Pay of Davis Consultants

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gov. Gray Davis' decision to spend $30,000 a month retaining two consultants raised more hackles Monday, as a conservative activist sued to block payment and Controller Kathleen Connell said she has no intention of signing any checks to them.

Lewis Uhler, a longtime conservative antitax activist, sued in Sacramento Superior Court to block Connell from writing checks to Chris Lehane and Mark Fabiani, the former Clinton White House officials who work for Davis--and Southern California Edison--as communications consultants helping the governor shape his message on the energy crisis.

In an interview Monday, Connell all but welcomed the lawsuit, saying that while she has yet to receive an invoice for Lehane and Fabiani, she already had decided she was "going to freeze the payment."

Connell, like Davis, is a Democrat but has been openly warring with the governor since he opted against endorsing her for Los Angeles mayor, and instead supported Antonio Villaraigosa.

"I'm certainly in agreement with the intention of the lawsuit," Connell said. "It provides a legal incentive [to not pay], and a protection mechanism when I don't pay."

In recent months, Davis has retained several consultants to help him sort out the energy mess. But his decision to retain Lehane and Fabiani angered many Republicans and some Democrats.

The Harvard-educated lawyers are highly partisan and honed a reputation for attack-oriented tactics when they helped President Bill Clinton deal with scandals.

Their fee hasn't helped. The $30,000 in taxpayer money they stand to receive is more than the $13,750 the governor is paid monthly, and far more than ex-communications director Phil Trounstine was paid when he held the job.

"If these parties were truly concerned about the taxpayers and people of California," Lehane said, "they'd be spending their time suing out-of-state power generators for their months of gouging."

In addition to seeking a court order blocking their payment, the suit also asks that they be barred from participating in decisions related to the energy crisis, given that they also do work for Southern California Edison. Republican attorney Charles Bell, who filed the suit, cited state laws barring officials from participating in decisions affecting entities from which they have received $250 or more.

"It is a blatant conflict of interest," Bell said.

Meanwhile, the state Democratic Party plans to file a complaint today with the Internal Revenue Service to try to determine the undisclosed backers of a TV spot attacking Davis' handling of the electricity crisis.

"These energy bandits do not want to come into the open," party Chairman Art Torres said.

Torres said Democrats also will file complaints with broadcast regulators and the Federal Election Commission.

Representatives of various power companies have denied involvement in the spot, produced by a Republican ad strategist and placed by a GOP consulting firm. The ad is credited to a group called the American Taxpayer Alliance, which lists a Washington law firm as its address.

Scott Reed, a Washington lobbyist and Republican political operative, acknowledged that he had organized the ad campaign.

Reed said the group has 10,000 donors ranging from "grannies who write little $5 checks up to CEOs." But he declined to identify any of the donors, saying that they wished to remain private and that he is not required by law to disclose them.

Davis blasted the ad, which began airing Monday, blaming the assault on his foes in the power industry.

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Times political writers Mark Z. Barabak and Ronald Brownstein contributed to this story.

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