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Davis Always Finds Room for Fund-Raising

Politics: Governor guards the secrecy of much of his schedule. But built into it is the efficient amassing of campaign money.


SACRAMENTO — Hoping to shine before a national audience, Gov. Gray Davis will be everywhere while delegates are in Los Angeles for the Democratic National Convention.

He'll appear on national television offering insights into Al Gore's campaign. He'll preside over a bash at Paramount Studios welcoming several thousand party leaders, activists and delegates. He'll speak twice at the convention. And he'll carry out a task that he has learned well: raising money, probably as much as $2.5 million for the Democratic Party.

But back at the Capitol in Sacramento, the center of state government, Davis is rarely seen. In a typical week, he makes only one or two carefully staged public appearances. Some weeks, he never surfaces at all, and his staff releases scant information about any meetings he has.

"Private meetings, phone calls, staff briefings and other work the governor performs are not public activities and we are under no obligation to detail them," said Davis' communications director, Phil Trounstine.

By law, Davis need not publicly release his calendar. A 1991 state Supreme Court ruling gives governors broad authority to keep private many aspects of their work habits, to ensure that the chief executive's "deliberative process" is not inhibited.

The secrecy surrounding Davis' schedule means that little is known about what he does with his time. Part of the reason is that Davis, already running for reelection in 2002, spends a considerable chunk of his day raising money. In this he has been phenomenally successful, amassing $21.3 million--an average of almost $40,000 a day--in his first 18 months in office.

His skill at extracting money from donors is making him a star among Democratic politicians who flocked to Los Angeles this week. In fact, his first scheduled activity was to host a Friday night fund-raiser for New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen at the Brentwood home of a longtime backer.

Unlike governors of many states, such as New York and Wisconsin, he refuses to release information about his fund-raising schedule.

Davis emphasized his desire to keep the schedule secret when he appeared on an Internet chat session sponsored by last week. He declined to answer a question about whether he would make the schedule public.

"He doesn't want to be known as Gray Davis, the best fund-raiser in the world," said Democratic campaign consultant Darry Sragow, explaining why Davis will not release his money-raising schedule. "He wants to be known as Gray Davis, the man who fixes education."

As it is, Californians pay little attention to politics, notes Garry South, Davis' chief campaign advisor. So Davis focuses on education, only occasionally shifting to other issues. The strategy works. A recent Field poll shows 61% of Californians approve of his performance. Even most Republicans think he's doing well.

"It is just good communication sense to control your message," South said.

A Day in the Life of Governor

Nevertheless, a picture of how Davis spends his days emerges from conversations with a variety of sources and an examination of his campaign finance statements. It is clear that Davis spends much of his time on political matters, as he glides seamlessly from affairs of state to the business of getting himself a second term.

Take July 17. The Legislature was in summer recess; no need for Davis to be in Sacramento. And it's not unusual for him to be in voter-rich Southern California. His private residence is a West Hollywood condo, and he spends most weekends there.

On that day, he made three public appearances: at a school in Artesia to praise rising student test scores; at an organized labor convention in Anaheim, where he again talked about his school policies; and at a hotel in Anaheim, where he swore in one of his appointees, Orange County's first Vietnamese American judge. At each appearance, he was appealing to his core of supporters: Democratic labor leaders and suburban moderates.

His final stop, not listed on his official schedule, was in the Republican bastion of Newport Beach for dinner at the exclusive Pacific Club. The event was notable for its host, Irvine Co., a land development firm that had donated $188,000 to Davis' opponent in 1998, former Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren.

After Davis won, Irvine, like many Republican donors, became a supporter, giving him $25,000 shortly after election day in 1998, $20,000 more last year and $25,000 in March 2000. The July 17 dinner, said a Republican source not affiliated with Irvine, raised about $100,000 for Davis.

Gary Hunt, Irvine's senior vice president, was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia earlier this month. On the convention floor, Hunt declined to discuss the dinner but acknowledged that he appreciates Davis' moderate approach to governing California.

"On the whole," Hunt said, "he has done a good job as governor."

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