Mr. Nunez, who are you wining and dining?
It’s going to be a sad day for California retailers when Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez leaves office. The Los Angeles Democrat has tossed money around like a drunken sailor, and I mean no disrespect to any drunken sailors.
As my colleague Nancy Vogel reported last week, Nunez is quite the world traveler. He spent thousands on fine wine and food in Europe, ostensibly on state-related business, while preposterously claiming he lives the life of your typical middle-class schmo.
And it turns out that’s just for starters.
The man is no slouch on his home turf, either. In a little over two years, he has listed roughly $80,000 worth of “office” expenses on state campaign disclosure forms, using money donated to his “Friends of Fabian” campaign.
Our favorite member of the middle class dropped $4,972 at Nordstrom over two years, listing the purchases as “office” expenses.
Then there’s the $3,493.14 worth of “office” expenses rung up at upscale clothier Robert Talbott of Carmel and Pebble Beach. And did I mention the $1,897.90 in “office” expenses at Polo Ralph Lauren in San Francisco and the huge tabs at some of California’s finest restaurants?
This guy needs his own American Express commercial.
To be fair, the speaker has also been kind to the likes of Target and OfficeMax. And Pottery Barn in Sacramento is $2,968.38 richer because of him.
I’m surprised that Nunez, who’s no dummy and has been fairly effective in one of Sacramento’s toughest jobs, has been so slow to explain himself on these and other expenses.
Has he turned his office into a palace? Has he given away all the loot to political comrades?
I’ve asked his office for the answers. I’ve also asked to know precisely what the important state business was at a Parisian restaurant and a Bordeaux wine shop, where Nunez listed expenses of $1,795 and $5,149, respectively. I’ll let you know when Nunez produces the names of those who were present and what they discussed.
But if he decides to keep up the mummy routine, we’ll still be in the dark. State law doesn’t require politicians to be terribly specific about how they spend campaign donations.
“It’s very much up in the air,” says Bob Stern of the Center for Governmental Studies.
Office holders can use that money for travel or even to buy gifts for staff members, constituents or contributors. The only requirement is that such gifts be related to a political, legislative or governmental purpose.
Geez, do you think that’s vague and meaningless enough?
Even though it doesn’t involve tax dollars, I’d like to know if the representative of a healthcare or communications company is on the gift list of a powerful politician. Then I could decide whether I think such a cozy relationship is in my best interest.
It’s not as if we didn’t already have enough to fear from Sacramento, where special interest money is flowing as never before and public policy often appears to be up for auction, despite Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s vows to drain the cesspool.
Does a fat contribution to a politician’s campaign fund get you a necktie from Nordstrom?
Does a fatter one get you a nice little trinket from Louis Vuitton?
Miriam Collingwood, a Unite Here union member who drives a shuttle bus for a casino resort near Sacramento, didn’t make Nunez’s gift list. She didn’t even get one measly snickerdoodle, even though Nunez bought $1,005.76 worth of gourmet cookies.
The union member kicks a couple of bucks a month into Unite Here’s political causes, which have included support of Nunez and some of his initiatives, and campaign tickets, but she’s rethinking the investment now.
“It upsets me to find out he’s spending this kind of money, and I can’t understand how he can do this,” she said. “We work hard for our money and support our causes, not just by donations but time and effort on campaigns. So it’s really upsetting for me to put my trust in someone like that.”
Unite Here, which represents half a million hotel, casino and garment workers, has had its differences with Nunez, said Jack Gribbon, the union’s political director. But, he says:
“I thought he was someone who carried the fundamental principles of rights for workers in his heart and soul, and clearly the guy’s been completely enamored with this jet-set lifestyle that he’s picked up in his years in the Legislature.”
Last week, Teamsters representative Barry Broad told me it’s enough to make a man pray for public financing of campaigns, but only a fool or an eternal optimist would take the odds on that ever happening.
While we’re waiting, I’d settle for a legal change requiring politicians to be more forthcoming about what they do with their campaign funds. That way, I wouldn’t have to ask why Nunez spent $1,733.77 on flowers, $1,028.94 at a Venice pottery shop, $451.54 on See’s candy and $2,324.66 at Sierra Cookware in Reno.
Call me, Fabian, and let’s get together. I’m willing to hear you out on how all this is related to state business.
And if you haven’t already given them away, please bring the $116.16 worth of cigars.