Nearly one-fifth of the $64 million Gov. Gray Davis has raised for his reelection, about $12 million, has been directed to his campaign by people he appointed to state boards and commissions.
Among those who contributed are multimillionaires on the University of California Board of Regents, racing enthusiasts on the California Horse Racing Board, and union leaders whose organizations have donated more than $4 million.
At least 75 of the roughly 140 boards that have statewide authority include at least one Davis donor. Many have a majority who are contributors and some are filled exclusively with political donors, according to a Times analysis of campaign finance records.
Davis’ aides say there is no connection between campaign donations and appointments. Others, including some Davis appointees, say giving him money helps draw attention to them and their desire to receive a coveted board seat.
“If you’re someone who has been financially supportive,” said Norm Pattiz, named to the Board of Regents last October, “they know who you are. It’s that simple.”
More than 240 Davis appointees have donated to him directly or through spouses, close business associates or corporate or union employers. In several cases, appointees have given him money within weeks or days of their receiving their posts. In some cases, donations were reported on the day Davis announced the appointments.
“It shouldn’t come as a surprise that people who are active in politics are going to want to serve on boards and commissions,” said Davis campaign spokesman Roger Salazar, who also has worked in the governor’s press office. But he called it “putting the cart before the horse to say the reason they get these appointments is because they are active.”
“I know the governor doesn’t give extra weight to that,” Salazar said. He dismissed questions about the timing of campaign checks and appointments: “It’s making a connection that doesn’t exist.”
Although governors typically have in mind some supporters they want to name to sought-after boards and commissions, by far the bulk of those slots are filled by people who submit applications. Davis’ appointments secretary, Los Angeles lawyer Michael Yamaki, vets the applicants, doing background checks and interviewing them.
He said his goal is to select people who will follow Davis’ policies, work hard and not embarrass the administration. Yamaki, a former Los Angeles police commissioner, helped Davis raise money in his 1998 election campaign.
His predecessor, Assemblyman Dario Frommer (D-Los Feliz), was political director of the 1998 campaign. But though they know Davis donors, Yamaki said he never asks prospective appointees about political support.
There are two types of boards and commissions to which Davis makes appointments. The most prestigious are 79 panels whose members require confirmation by the state Senate. Of the nearly 600 vacancies on those boards, at least 100 of Davis’ appointees have donated to his campaign -- for a combined $9.5 million since 1999 either directly or through spouses, employers or unions. Donors serve on at least 50 of the 79 boards.
The second type of board requires no legislative confirmation. Fewer of the more than 2,000 appointees to those panels are donors. But Davis has collected from appointees to a variety of those boards and commissions, including some of the roughly 500 people who serve on California’s 54 county fair boards -- accounting for nearly $2.5 million in all.
Most of the appointees get little or no pay. But the slots give commissioners prestige within their fields and avocations.
Part-time board members help oversee state agencies and departments. Many cast votes affecting how tax money gets spent. Some decide which companies are awarded state contracts.
Dozens of commissions that oversee professions ranging from real estate and accounting to podiatry and medicine wield the power to revoke licenses of wayward practitioners.
“It’s dynamite,” said Hollywood nightclub owner Gene La Pietra, a former parks commissioner who gave $80,000 to the governor this year and who is the leading proponent of Hollywood secession.
“You get access,” La Pietra added. “You get things done. It picks you up a bit. It is a prestige booster, no question. It’s nice to be the commissioner. I love it.”
There is no overall estimate of the amounts given to past governors by their appointees. But judging by his choices for the UC Board of Regents, Davis has received far more from his appointees than previous governors received.
Gov. Pete Wilson’s regents donated $138,700 in his first term. The money came from six of the 13 people he nominated for the board. Davis’ appointees to the regents have donated nearly 10 times that sum: $1.3 million during his first term, either directly or through companies with which they are affiliated.
Seven of Davis’ nine regents are donors. They include Richard Blum, husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). Blum has given Davis $50,600 and has helped raise roughly $200,000 more. Regent Haim Saban, an entertainment mogul, has donated $500,000 to Davis directly or through companies he controls. Saban also made a $7-million donation this year to the Democratic National Committee.
Does being a contributor help secure such appointments?
“Sure. Of course it does,” Pattiz said.
Although Pattiz isn’t a college graduate, he brings more than money to the Board of Regents. He’s founder of the radio network Westwood One, and has a long-standing interest in education. He is the main benefactor of Hamilton High School Academy of Music in Los Angeles, is a past president of the Broadcasting Education Assn., and served on a board that oversees UCLA’s communications program.
A Davis supporter since early in the governor’s political career, Pattiz has donated $120,000 to his reelection since 1999. When Davis was elected, Pattiz hoped for an opportunity to serve in some capacity and “give back” to the state where he made his fortune, he said.
A review of Davis’ appointments during his first term shows:
* Six of eight named to the California State University Board of Trustees have donated $631,600 to his reelection since 1999. Appointees include a union leader, the head of a statewide business lobby group, the son of a major Sacramento-area developer, and Shailesh Mehta, past chairman of Providian Financial Corp., one of the largest credit card issuers to people with shaky credit.
* Five of Davis’ eight appointees to the State Board of Education, which sets policy for public schools, have donated $1.05 million altogether since 1999. Board Chairman Reed Hastings, head of the movie rental firm Netflix, has given Davis $350,000, and estimates that he has helped raise a similar amount from others.
“It seems natural that people who have the means and faith in the governor would contribute,” Hastings said, adding that he donates to Davis because the governor supports expansion of charter public schools. He said there was “no expectation” that he needed to donate to get the appointment.
* Four of five current Parks and Recreation Commission members are donors, including Davis’ most famous appointee, actor Clint Eastwood, who held a fund-raiser for the governor this year. Current and past commissioners have given Davis at least $386,000.
* All Davis’ appointees to the Contractors State License Board, except the one who by law must be a local building official, have donated to Davis’ reelection. Either directly or through their organizations, they’ve given him $100,000. Members of several other professional boards, ranging from physicians to architects and accountants, also are donors.
* Horse racing board members have given Davis a relatively modest $62,000. Vice Chairman Roger Licht, for one, has donated $1,000. But Licht, a Beverly Hills lawyer, is a business associate of one of Davis’ major benefactors, Martin J. Wygod. Wygod and his wife, Pamela, are horse breeders, and have given Davis $279,000 since 1999. Wygod said he recommended Licht to the administration.
Board member William Bianco, a Republican who has given Davis no money, is a partner with David Shimmon in Fog City Stables, which owns and breeds thoroughbred race horses. Shimmon has donated $450,000 to Davis since 1999.
“When you’re a donor,” Bianco said, “they ask for recommendations.”
* Six of eight California Transportation Commission members, who help oversee how billions are spent on transit projects, have donated $685,000 to Davis directly or through their unions. A seventh helped ensure that the California Trucking Assn. endorsed Davis when the commissioner was president of the group in 1998. The trucking group has given Davis $136,000 since 1999.
The board includes San Francisco lawyer Jeremiah Hallisey, whose firm has given $61,750 to the governor, modest by Davis’ standards. But Hallisey leverages his clout by organizing fund-raisers for the governor.
Davis aides often turn to Hallisey for recommendations about other potential appointees to boards and commissions. Hallisey has ready access to the governor’s staff on behalf of such clients as Pacific Lumber Co., energy firm Calpine and AT&T.;
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon Jr., trying to unseat Davis in next month’s election, seized on the connection between campaign donations and appointees last month when Rod Diridon, the Davis-appointed chairman of California’s High Speed Rail Commission, sent an e-mail to firms that would “build, operate and maintain” a $25-billion bullet train system urging that they attend a fund-raiser in Davis’ honor.
As head of the rail commission, Diridon will have at least some sway over the proposed massive public works undertaking. Davis canceled the event after news reports that the fund-raiser would take place a day after the governor, with Diridon at his side, signed legislation placing a $9.9-billion bond issue on the 2004 statewide ballot to help finance the bullet train.
Simon called the circumstances “unethical and beneath the dignity of the office of governor of California.”
Earlier this year, Davis fired an aide for accepting $25,000 on the governor’s behalf from a lobbyist for Oracle Corp., days after the administration signed a software contract with Oracle. At the time, Davis released an internal policy that bars aides from political fund-raising.
Salazar, the Davis campaign spokesman, said the prohibition applies only to paid full-time aides such as his Cabinet officers, agency chiefs and department directors -- not appointees who serve part time in largely unpaid positions.
“People have a constitutional right to participate in the civic process,” Salazar said. “This is all line-drawing. It gets into the touchy issue of how far can you go without violating constitutional rights.”
Some say Davis partisans broach the issue of campaign support with prospective appointees, but never bluntly.
“You want to get on the Fish and Game Commission?” asked retired state Court of Appeal Justice William Newsom. “You’d better be prepared to raise $100,000. They never say it directly. They’re much too sophisticated. It’s elliptical.”
Newsom has known Davis since their days in Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration. He helped Davis raise money during the 1998 campaign, and wanted a spot on the Fish and Game board. After his election, Davis named Newsom to the Parks and Recreation Commission. But there were so many vacancies that there was no quorum to hold a meeting. As Newsom saw it, the job was little more than “window dressing.”
Newsom’s term was supposed to expire as Davis headed into his reelection campaign. The reason, Newsom surmised, was that Davis hoped Newsom would raise additional money for the governor’s reelection to secure reappointment. Rather than raise money, Newsom quit.
Some Davis appointees who have given no money provide other benefits. Former Clinton administration official Bob Hattoy, for example, recently was named to the Fish and Game Commission. A past Sierra Club regional director, Hattoy campaigned successfully last month to secure the organization’s endorsement for Davis.
Other notable appointees who have given no money include Dee Dee Myers, a state university trustee who served as press secretary to President Clinton. Myers recently moved back to Washington, D.C., and plans to give up the post after the election. UC Regent Monica Lozano, president and chief operating officer of the Spanish-language newspaper La Opinion, also has given no money.
Appointees, particularly those from organized labor, have a variety of reasons for donating to the Democratic governor. Many unions have fared well during Davis’ first term, winning his support on various workplace and pay issues.
“Labor deserves to have people on these commissions and to have a voice,” said James Kellogg, the top executive in the state’s plumbers union and a Davis appointee to the Fish and Game Commission. Like other labor leaders, Kellogg said, he had little access during the 16 years when Republican Govs. Wilson and George Deukmejian were in charge.
“I’m proud that [Davis] considers me to be a good enough friend and supporter to place me on any commission,” he said.