As the Gray Davis recall moves into overdrive and the noxious Davis consultant Chris Lehane "who helped Clinton formulate his creepy Monica Lewinsky strategy" gets ready to launch an assault on the truth unlike anything ever witnessed in a California election, a phrase keeps circling inside my head.
Follow the money.
Most political junkies know by now that Lehane plans to paint the recall as right-wingers stealing an election from liberals. Lehane is said to be the most negative campaigner in the United States, a guy who will shimmy so low to win that Davis, the most vicious campaigner California has seen in modern times, imported Lehane from Back East.
Many voters won't easily dismiss their own boiling fury at Davis, nor at the $38 billion in debt that materialized on Davis' watch after our fibbing Governor and catatonic leaders like Sen. John Burton insisted things were under control.
Even so, if you are tempted to buy into any of Lehane's whoppers-such as the one making rounds that a recall "hurts" California's economy (compared to how rosy things are by keeping Davis), merely remember this advice: follow the money.
Why, for instance, is Mighty Morphin Power Rangers gazillionaire Haim Saban giving $100,000 to ensure that Davis remains governor, and why did spoiled rich kid Stephen Bing fork over $100,000, and why should Zenith Insurance Co. of Woodland Hills have handed Davis $100,000?
Why would John and Rebecca Moores, owners of the San Diego Padres, give $100,000; why would two Service Employees International Unions give a total of $200,000, and why would Jerry Perenchio, CEO of Univision, cough up $50,000 for a governor who is clearly incompetent?
Why would the California Professional Firefighters part with $118,000, and why did Stewart and Linda Resnick, who derive their riches from 1 800 Flowers and incredibly garish dust-catchers sold via The Franklin Mint, give up $50,000?
Why did Roland E. Arnall, chairman of Ameriquest of Orange County, which lends high-interest dough to bad credit risks, convince his firm to give $50,000; why did Richard S. Ziman send $25,000 from Arden Realty LP, plus give $25,000 personally; and why did aging Beverly Hills developer Nate Shappel part with $25,000?
For starters, many in this bunch make up the Westside money cabal in Los Angeles who put Davis in office. They are far too rich and disconnected from their fellow travelers to experience normal human shame. For them, Davis is a 401K from which they are not yet ready to withdraw.
"Good God," says Shawn Steel, former chairman of the California Republican Party, "these people previously poured millions into Gray Davis, and as they said in Tammany Hall, "Once he's bought, he ought to stay bought.'"
A slightly kinder take comes from Democrat Kathleen Connell, who stepped down as State Controller in January after spending months blasting her fellow Democrats for their unchecked overspending, which Connell says clearly caused California's budget debacle.
Connell was a fiscal toughie who, had Davis listened to her, never would have permitted these reckless "get out alive" budgets Davis and the Democrats keep creating.
"You are going to see eight or so major players behind Gray during this recall, giving directly, or through vendors, or subsidiaries, and they are Haim Saban, Stephen Bing, [grocery magnate] Ron Berkle, [SunAmerica billionaire] Eli Broad and others," says Connell.
"The Democrats would lose their political control-their greatest fear is if he's thrown out it destroys Democratic solidarity and it would create an opportunity for a Republican to be elected governor," Connell says.
If these multimillionaires and billionaires avert what would be the second recall of a governor in the U.S., they will gain unprecedented attention from Davis until 2006. That gushing gubernatorial gratefulness could come in awfully handy.
Take Jerry Perenchio, chairman of Spanish-language Univision, who a few years ago spent more than $1 million trying to stop English immersion, Proposition 227. (Why lose all those Univision customers by having immigrant kids in California learn to read and write in English?)
On July 10, Perenchio needs help from Davis appointees on the California Coastal Commission. He finally got caught operating his secret, illegal, non-permitted, nine-hole golf course at Malibu Lagoon built for his wife behind eight-foot rock walls, erected to mask it from the Coastal Commission. In filings long ago, Perenchio told the Coastal Commission he was using the 10 acres for a "jogging trail." But the illegal golf course was an inside joke among L.A.'s wealthiest, who chuckled as the hated Coastal Commission dumbly failed to grasp where poisons in Malibu Lagoon were coming from.
According to Wetlands Action Network spokeswoman Marcia Hanscom, Perenchio's been spewing heavy pesticides including Roundup onto his secret greens for two decades while children romp in adjacent sand and tidal pools-directly in the path of Perenchio's unsafe and ecologically damaging runoff.
Says Hanscom: "Incredibly, I understand the Commission staff is going to recommend July 10 that Perenchio be rewarded with a permit-after-the-fact for a development that exists nowhere else on our coast-because it's a terrible impact that's never allowed. The reason for $100,000 going from Perenchio to Davis is pretty obvious."
Perenchio is hardly the only name on the Grease Gray Donor List who may need a delicate personal intervention from the governor. Look at the growing mess facing Padres owner Moores, one of Davis' earliest backers, who Davis rewarded by appointing to the University of California Board of Regents.
Moores' software company, Peregrine Systems, is under SEC investigation and is in bankruptcy protection after a massive scandal over cooking its books. Moores resigned as Peregrine chairman recently. Company officials told the San Diego Union-Tribune they are now deciding whether to sue Moores and other directors to recover upwards of $100 million.
Republicans in Congress are drooling to detail the events that led Moores to sell more than 18 million shares of stock, reportedly for more than $600 million, while the company's business health was being faked. Peregrine officials insist Arthur Andersen, their former accountants, cooked the books without their knowledge. If federal blowback affects Moores' many business dealings in California, he could use a powerful Democrat in Sacramento.
A governor would be nice.
Another favorite on my list of purely altruistic givers to stop the recall is Zenith Insurance Co., whose chairman Stanley Zax told Associated Press the $100,000 his company gave is unrelated to any state business.
Zenith, a major provider of workers compensation insurance in California, spent $50,000 on lobbying this year.
I was at the heavily lobbied hearings on workers compensation. The Democrats wasted hours on foolish bills that, with few exceptions, avoided making true fixes to a crisis that is mushrooming out of control under Davis. (Indeed, workers compensation is now becoming the next big Democratic disaster, and will be followed by another Democratic disaster when California's insanely over-committed pension plans falter.)
During the hearings, the minority Republicans put forth several bills that sought to seriously reform workers compensation by copying states where workers compensation is going really well.
The Democrats killed all but one Republican reform. Why? Because deep reform is opposed by the insurance companies, unions and other Democratic campaign donors who were milling about.
I predict the Democrats will utterly fail to reform workers compensation in 2003. But, as Zax insists, Zenith giving $100,000 to Davis has nothing to do with state business.
Who else is passionate about saving Gray Davis? Stephen Bing, the brat New York heir who keeps impregnating beautiful women and getting mired in weird scandals for doing so, gave $100,000.
You may recall Bing's boorish behavior when he insisted that global beauty Elizabeth Hurley have their child paternity-tested, because Bing thought Hurley might be a floozy. Turns out that Bing-who also wound up being the father of the baby in the Kirk Kirkorian-Lisa Bonder paternity battle-is the real floozy. Bing's the last person you'd place on a list of people worried about Good Government.
Shawn Steel theorizes that Bing "is a huge fan of Gray Davis because he's a brain-dead, party-down-in-San Francisco, never-worked-a-day-in-his-life, bad-news guy. Bing gives me intriguing socialist thoughts, like, "He doesn't deserve all that wealth.'"
I also see on the Grease Gray list very rich trial lawyers like the brilliant Joseph W. Cotchett of Burlingame, who has good reason to believe that California's backwards tort system, which allows massive verdicts for modest wrongs, will never be reformed under gutless Davis. I see on the list major land developers who believe Davis will say we need open space but then will allow awful development in the back door.
I'm quite sure these fabulously rich Davis loyalists hope California turns around and gets on track one day. But priorities come first. And the first question clearly is: what about me?