Some years back, I met a teller of truths-which is rare in politics and in journalism-who made a career of sticking his neck out and noting that this or that emperor was wearing no clothes.
This truth-teller, hated by both Republicans and Democrats-whom he continually embarrassed-is quirky multimillionaire Ron Unz, and Unz plays a unique role in the current "scandal" over the Republicans' scheme to quietly funnel nearly $1 million from an insurance company into legislative races last fall.
The truth is, the 21st Century Insurance Co. dustup rests at the feet of my very own people, the sadly, dastardly Democrats, who continually act in ways that make me hang my head in shame. More on that a bit later.
The shy, wealthy Republican Unz was the first to publicly utter one of the most painful political truths I'd ever heard: that we, the people of California, had created a society of 1.5 million Latino teenagers who after years of schooling in this country could not read or write in English.
Unz was right that Mexican American students would soak up English reading and writing like sponges if given the chance. He pushed successfully for the passage of Proposition 227, insisting that denying the children English and forcing them to learn reading and writing in Spanish until fifth grade ruined their chances of success as adults.
One study by the Los Angeles Unified School District showed California had 1.5 million functionally illiterate Latino young adults, churned out by discredited "bilingual education."
The intriguing thing about Unz was that he also spoke out earnestly in favor of relaxed immigration and against Prop. 187, arguing that immigration is the lifeblood of California and a tremendous plus for our society. He was rudely booed by crowds who thought he was going to say the opposite. Naturally, Unz is hated by both sides-and most viciously so by the far-far left and far-far right.
I have learned to listen carefully to this unique thinker who is one of the most likable and prescient people in California politics.
Unz warned me and others back in 2000 that the fundraising "scandal" now hitting Sacramento was inevitable. Unz is utterly unsurprised to learn that the Republican Party used huge loopholes in California's phony campaign "reform" law, Proposition 34, to move nearly $1 million from 21st Century Insurance into last fall's state legislative races without anyone knowing.
Senate Majority Leader John Burton proposed Prop. 34 and made sure his attorney, Lance Olsen, who represents the state Democratic Party and many Democrats, wrote it. Republicans were allowed to give input into Prop. 34, because both parties sought to overturn a tough reform act voters had passed, Prop. 208. But, as was widely reported, the majority Democrats controlled the final wording.
In 2000, Unz, I and others warned on TV and in columns that the Democrats were creating in Prop. 34 the very loophole used by 21st Century Insurance. Then-Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg denied it, writing me a letter chiding me for stating such a thing.
Campaign reform expert Tony Miller agrees with me that Hertzberg "was probably naive about what was going on, but certainly the key authors knew they were creating a loophole."
Prop. 34 radically empowered county political parties, allowing them to accept unlimited funds in the final flurry of campaigns. Despite this vast new power, however, the law bizarrely left county parties under a legal category allowing them to keep secret the source of all last-minute contributions until after the election.
Unz claims the scheming Democrats never dreamed the Republicans would use the loophole before them, nor so deftly. Says Unz: "I warned and warned everyone that the Democrats had designed Prop. 34 so that there would be a period where unlimited amounts of money could be secretly channeled through local parties, and that is exactly what this insurance company did-but they did it to the Democrats."
You know what I say to the Democrats? Ha! Sit in your stew and roast for a bit. You've richly earned it.
I watch the spectacle in Sacramento as the witty old Burton, badly outmaneuvered by the Republicans using Prop. 34, and thus beaten in a key state senate race he tried to win for Democrats, condemns the Republicans for using his own private loophole.
Booming with phony righteousness, Burton insists, "We will support legislation to close this loophole!"
Hmmpph! Another yawning crevasse will merely open quietly somewhere else. Unz says Prop. 34 left loopholes aplenty. "The party that has the massive advantage in money and fundraising always benefits most from looser rules," says Unz. "The Democrats are infuriated by this? They shouldn't have set up such a crooked system clearly designed to legalize money laundering. I guess the thing that would make the Democrats happy is if the law stated that only the Democrats could use the loopholes."
Look at the actions of Burton himself. During last fall's election, he also quietly donated huge sums given to him by fat special interests and sleazy lobbyists-yet he now feeds the dopey media the story that the Republicans were the Evil Ones.
Last year, Burton shifted $1.125 million a few days after the fall elections from his own campaign pockets to the California Democratic Party bank account, according to records of the California Secretary of State. Miraculously, that sum is very close to the amount the Democratic Party secretly spent, under the last-minute donations loophole, on three races that Burton was desperate to influence.
A mass infusion-more than $1 million-was given to Democratic hack Rusty Areias, running for senate in Southern California-the very race the Republicans buttressed with $900,000 in 21st Century Insurance donations for their ultimately successful candidate, Jeff Denham.
The remaining cash-$172,000-went to two San Francisco County supervisor races and was decisive in helping elect two allies of Mayor Willie Brown, the longtime pal of the San Francisco-based Burton.
Records show that right after the election, Burton handed $1.125 million to the state Democratic Party from the scads of creepy lobbyists and unions who always support him. Let's say he was replenishing the cash the party spent on Burton's three candidates. Burton can't do that. He can't give more than $25,000 per candidate, according to campaign reform expert Miller.
Republican strategist Rob Stutzman, who helped get the money from 21st Century Insurance, says, "In some ways, what Burton did is even shadier, because the money didn't come in until after the election."
Burton denies all this, of course. Nope, Burton innocently and coincidentally handed $1.125 million to the Democratic Party of California right after the party secretly spent a similar amount on his favorite races. Burton's gift simply "augmented the Party's operating budget," a spokesperson says.
Well, of course it did.
And it's not just Burton. Take a look at our newly elected Democrat secretary of state, Kevin Shelley. Shelley got a lot of press in recent days by demanding that the state Fair Political Practices Commission investigate the possible illegality of the Republican use of money from 21st Century Insurance. Yet Shelley has been unable to articulate exactly which law was broken. Interestingly, as widely reported last fall, Shelley has been involved in money-laundering allegations of his own.
Last fall, Shelley was entangled in an alleged scheme to help then-state Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza move thousands of dollars from his state campaign chest to his federal campaign chest-which is illegal. Cardoza was writing checks from his state campaign chest to support other politicians, and within a few days these pals would write a check in the same amount back to Cardoza to be deposited into his federal campaign chest.
Cardoza's opponent in the race, Republican state Sen. Dick Monteith, accused Cardoza of giving his friends-like Shelley-Cardoza's own cash to hand back to him, cleverly placed this time into his federal pile.