SACRAMENTO — Five groups led by California Common Cause opened a campaign Tuesday to derail Gov. Pete Wilson's appointment of a close friend and large campaign donor to the University of California Board of Regents.
At a news conference, the organizations charged that John G. Davies' appointment violates California's constitutional requirement that the Board of Regents must reflect the state's social, cultural and economic diversity.
Davies, 58, is white and an influential lawyer who had served on San Diego's downtown redevelopment board. In the 1960s, he was Wilson's law school roommate at UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall. Davies now manages Wilson's blind trust and is a fund-raiser who has given $39,000 to the governor's campaigns.
Wilson appointed Davies to the board last year. But his confirmation is only now going to the Senate. He is scheduled to appear before the Senate Rules Committee next Wednesday. If he clears the committee, the full Senate will vote on his appointment.
On Tuesday, representatives of the five groups, while acknowledging that Davies is competent, said they are challenging his appointment not only because he is white, but because he is a campaign donor, a millionaire and a man.
"We're not after a quota system," said John Gamboa of the Latino Issues Forum, whose campaign was allied with the UC Students Assn., Common Cause, the California chapter of the National Organization for Women and American GI Forum.
Gamboa said Wilson and his predecessor, Gov. George Deukmejian, heavily stacked the board with wealthy men. Simply "replacing a white millionaire with a brown millionaire with a green millionaire" does not meet the requirement that regents reflect diversity, Gamboa said.
"What can I say? I'm guilty of all those things," Davies said, referring to the complaints. "If the Senate wants to not confirm for those reasons, then so be it. There's nothing to argue about."
The governor appoints 18 members to the Board of Regents. Seven others, including the governor, serve by virtue of their official positions. They serve 12-year terms and receive no pay. But the appointment is still considered important because the regents oversee the University of California. Some say the post is the most coveted gubernatorial appointment except for the Supreme Court.
Wilson appeared to have taken some of the punch out of the attack on Davies by announcing this week that he is considering appointing an African-American and a Chinese-American to the board. They would be his third and fourth appointments. Previously, Wilson named a Japanese-American, Stephen Nakashima. None has been confirmed by the Senate.
The five groups are remaining neutral on Wilson's other appointments.
Kim Alexander of California Common Cause noted that Davies has given $39,000 to Wilson's campaigns since 1989, that nominee Nakashima gave $33,000 and that Ward Connerly gave more than $100,000.
"It leaves the public with the impression that these appointments simply go to the highest bidder," Alexander said.
"The fact that these people have chosen to engage in the political process shouldn't disqualify them from public service," said Dan Schnur, Wilson's communication director.
Alexander also noted that Davies is worth at least $1.3 million, based on disclosures he was legally required to make. He would be one of at least six regents who is a millionaire.
There are four women on the board. With Regent Yvonne Brathwaite Burke's term expiring next month, there will be only three.
In the confirmation process next week, the Senate Rules Committee could kill the nomination by holding it and not sending it to the full Senate. The committee also could send the nomination to the Senate with "yes" or "no" recommendations or with no recommendation.
The Senate rarely turns down gubernatorial appointments. But it must act to confirm Davies by a March 30 deadline or his nomination expires.