Davis Is Accused of Accepting Improper Donation; Aide and Alleged Witness Reject Fund Accusation
A political organization that has endorsed Republican Bill Simon Jr.'s gubernatorial candidacy charged Monday that it gave a $10,000 donation to Gov. Gray Davis in his Capitol office four years ago, while he was lieutenant governor. It’s an allegation that, if true, would amount to a misdemeanor for both Davis and the contributor.
The charge elicited sharp denials from Davis’ top campaign aide, Garry South, and from the man alleged to have presented the check from the California Organization of Police and Sheriffs. South said the organization had presented the campaign check at Davis’ campaign office, which would have been legal, and not on state property.
Simon raised the issue in the first and likely the only debate of the 2002 campaign, when he asked Davis on statewide television whether the incumbent Democrat had ever accepted a campaign donation while in a state office. Davis said he recalled no such incident.
“In your career,” Simon asked, “have you ever accepted a campaign contribution in the state Capitol or in any of your government offices?”
“I have conducted myself within the law,” Davis said.
Simon assured reporters after the debate that he had evidence of such conduct. But the Simon campaign presented no proof Monday. Rather, it passed out a letter from a law firm that represents the organization to the California Fair Political Practices Commission, which enforces campaign finance law.
In the letter, attorney Thomas W. Hiltachk, whose firm also has represented the California Republican Party, says the group’s current leaders believe the previous executive, Al Angele and others, “unwittingly violated” the law by “delivering a $10,000 contribution check” to then-Lt. Gov. Davis in what at the time was Davis’ Capitol office.
“We also believe that Mr. Garry South was present with Gov. Davis at the time the check was presented to Gov. Davis by Mr. Angele,” the letter says. South said he recalled the meeting on Jan. 31, 1998, and insisted it had taken place in Davis’ Los Angeles campaign office, where such political activity would have been legal.
“It’s just a lie,” South said. “We never had meetings in the lieutenant governor’s office.”
Angele, former director of the organization, also denounced the charge.
“I’ve never been in Gray Davis’ [government] office,” Angele said. He said the charge comes “out of left field,” adding that newspapers “couldn’t print” his true reaction.
Davis campaign spokesman Roger Salazar labeled the allegation “categorically false,” and “possibly slanderous.”
The California Organization of Police and Sheriffs represents about 5,000 officers, its lobbyist William Hemby said earlier this year. The group broke with Davis this year, deciding instead to endorse Simon. At the time, its executive director, Monte Holden, was a Davis appointee to a commission that sets standards for police officer training. Davis did not reappoint Holden.
The organization donated $19,000 to Davis’ 1998 gubernatorial campaign, including the $10,000 check on Jan. 31, 1998. After assuming office in 1999, Davis appointed Angele to the Board of Prison Terms, a post that pays $99,000 a year.
A 1978 state law says anyone who gives a campaign donation and any official who accepts a campaign check while on state property is guilty of a misdemeanor. A politician convicted of such a crime would be barred from seeking office for four years.
Nathan Barankin, spokesman for Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer, said he doubted there could be a prosecution, even if the allegation were true. The law says any violation must be prosecuted within four years.
“If this occurred in January of 1998,” Barankin said, “there is no possibility of bringing a criminal action against anyone after January of 2002.”
Barankin noted that the Fair Political Practices Commission can levy fines for as long as five years for violations of the Political Reform Act. The commission declined comment.