SACRAMENTO — A major political campaign contributor, who enjoyed special privileges in the Capitol denied to virtually any other private citizen, has been stripped of his favored Senate status, Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti said Monday.
The Los Angeles Democrat took the action after a news report earlier in the month disclosed that David Commons, 71, a retired Hollywood director and screenwriter, was extended favors that included use of a Senate office and unlimited access to the upper chamber.
Roberti steadfastly defended Commons, a former lobbyist and currently a paid political consultant to Beverly Hills-based American Medical International, as a citizen volunteer who acted as an unofficial "ombudsman" in smoothing over difficulties between legislators. He has been associated with American Medical International for five years.
An unobtrusive rotund man, who has estimated his wealth at about $5 million, Commons has been such a familiar part of the Capitol scene that some employees believed he was a fellow staff member.
However, some members of the Sacramento lobbyist corps complained that Commons actually lobbied bills and noted that he enjoyed unrestricted access to Senate sessions, a privilege denied registered lobbyists.
United Press International reported that in recent weeks, Commons also used a Senate office in the Capitol, complete with a telephone, typewriter, desk, chairs and filing cabinets. He routinely attended Senate floor sessions without being required to show an admittance pass.
Complaints From Senators
After the disclosure, some senators complained that such favors for Commons, who gave $14,250 to Democratic and Republican legislative candidates last year--including $4,000 to Roberti--hurt the Senate's image.
In response to a question, Roberti said Monday that henceforth, Commons, a long-time friend, would have to follow the same rules in the Capitol as any other member of the public. He said the action did not result from pressure to move against Commons.
He insisted that Commons "never had an office" in the Capitol but as of "now, there is absolutely no place for him ever to park because all of the offices are occupied."
He said the offices filled up because "we finally completed all the committees."
As for Commons' unfettered access to the Senate chamber, Roberti said there will be strict enforcement of a rule requiring a pass before admittance to the Senate floor.
"We are being more vigorous in what our rule is: You can't come on the floor without a pass," Roberti said.
The wire service story raised the question of whether Commons' use of a Capitol office violated a provision of the state Constitution that prohibits making a gift of "any public money or thing of value" to anyone.
Roberti insisted that Commons was "no different than any other volunteer that comes around" and there has been no showing that Commons used state facilities to transact business for "someone he has been hired by."