California Governor Faces Heat Over Gore Hires

As lawmakers debate the merits of limiting energy prices in California, one Golden State activist is trying to limit payment to two Democratic consultants hired to help California Gov. Gray Davis develop a message for dealing with the state's energy problems.

Lewis Uhler, president of the National Tax Limitation Committee, filed suit Monday in Sacramento Superior Court, saying that the state controller, a Democrat, should be prohibited from paying the combined $30,000 per month fee to consultants Chris Lehane and Mark Fabiani, former Gore advisers. Both Lehane and Fabiani are now employed by the Southern California Edison electricity utility.

"They have a conflict of interest that may be terminal to their employment," Uhler said. "These are clearly not electricity experts. Their background suggests they have been hired to be damage control folks for a beleaguered governor."

California's state controller Kathleen Connell said that she will not sign any checks for Lehane and Fabiani, who started working for Davis one month ago, because she is concerned about both the amount of money Davis said he would pay them and about the conflict of interest their contracts present.

"I would like assurance that their work is directly related to solving California's energy crisis and not the political strategy that Fabiani and Lehane have built a reputation for through their work at the White House," Connell said.

Connell, a twice-elected controller named by Time magazine in 1996 as one of the "ten rising stars" in the Democratic Party, has not yet received an invoice for the services provided by Fabiani and Lehane. She said she has not received a copy of the lawsuit filed by Uhler but said she supports the "intention of the lawsuit."

In response to the suit, Lehane said, "If these parties were truly concerned about the taxpayers and the people of California, they'd be spending their time suing out-of-state power generators for their months of gouging," a reference to power providers that many Democrats say are inflating their profits by charging too much for electricity.

The controversy over Lehane and Fabiani is not the first time the controller has been at odds with Davis. She criticized Davis for not releasing information on long-term energy contracts that Republicans and some media outlets had sued to have released to the public. Davis released those contracts on Friday with several redactions.

Connell also refused a request earlier this year from the governor's office to transfer $5.6 billion from the state's General Fund to its Special Fund for Economic Uncertainties, saying Davis' request "could lead to a serious cash-flow crisis" as she cited a lack of available cash resources.

The AP contributed to this report

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Sharon Kehnemui is a digital marketing consultant and founder of Frequency Partners. She is a former senior politics editor for Follow her on Twitter @digisharon.