Davis Donations Questioned

Nearly one-fifth of the $64 million Gov. Gray Davis has raised for his re-election has been donated by people he appointed to state boards and commissions, according to a report published Sunday.

At least 75 of the roughly 140 boards with statewide authority include at least one Davis donor, and many of those have a majority who are contributors, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis of campaign finance records.

More than 240 Davis appointees have donated directly or through spouses, business associates and corporate and union employers. In several cases, appointees have given Davis money within weeks of receiving a new post, the Times reported.

Davis campaign spokesman Roger Salazar dismissed questions about the timing of campaign checks and appointments, saying, "It's making a connection that doesn't exist.''

"It shouldn't come as a surprise that people who are active in politics are going to want to serve on boards and commissions,'' he said.

Several Davis appointees, however, said making contributions helped them get noticed by the governor.

"If you're someone who has been financially supportive, they know who you are,'' said Norm Pattiz, who was named to the University of California Board of Regents last October. "It's that simple.''

Most of the appointees get little or no pay, but the positions can provide prestige within their fields. Part-time board members also help oversee state agencies and departments, many cast votes affecting how tax money gets spent, and some decide which companies are awarded state contracts.

"You get access,'' said Hollywood nightclub owner Gene La Pietra, a former parks commissioner who gave $80,000 to the governor this year. "You get things done. ... It is a prestige booster, no question.''

Although there is no estimate of the donations given to past governors by their appointees, Davis has received a substantial amount more from the UC Regents than former Gov. Pete Wilson received.

Wilson received $138,700 during his first term from six of the 13 people he named to the board. Davis' appointees have donated nearly 10 times that, about $1.3 million, either directly or through affiliated companies, the Times reported.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon Jr. seized on the connection between donations and appointees last month after Davis canceled a fund-raiser at the home of Rod Diridon, who Davis appointed to head the High-Speed Rail Authority, the board planning a line linking the state's major cities.

The fund-raiser was to be held a day after the governor signed a bill to put a $10 billion high-speed rail bond measure on the 2004 ballot.

Simon called the circumstances "unethical and beneath the dignity of the office of governor of California.''

Earlier this year, Davis released an internal policy that bars aides from political fund-raising after he fired an aide who accepted $25,000 on the governor's behalf from a lobbyist for Oracle Corp. days after the administration signed a software contract with the company.

Salazar said that policy applies only to paid full-time aides, 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.''