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Panel Endorses 2 Businessmen as UC Regents

Politics: Senate expected to confirm Haim Saban and Richard Blum, who are big donors to Democrats. Both favor greater ethnic diversity at the university.


SACRAMENTO — Haim Saban and Richard C. Blum, both wealthy businessmen and generous campaign contributors to Democrats, won the endorsement of a key committee Wednesday in their quest to become University of California regents.

The Senate Rules Committee, which considers nominations for those posts, approved their appointments by 4-0 votes, clearing the way for Gov. Gray Davis' picks to face a full vote in the Senate, where confirmation is expected.

Representatives of some minority rights organizations complained that Davis, like other governors before him, stacked the board with white, male campaign donors.

However, in testimony to the Democrat-controlled Senate Rules Committee, the witnesses said they backed the appointments of Saban and Blum because each voiced support for bringing greater diversity to the 160,000-student university.

On unanimous votes, the committee recommended that businessman Blum, husband of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and Saban, an entertainment tycoon, investor and philanthropist, be approved by the full Senate for confirmation to 12-year terms. They are expected to be confirmed easily.

Saban is one of the marketers of the "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers." In February, he gave the Democratic National Committee a record $7-million donation. He regularly hosts Davis at dinners at his home and is among the governor's biggest donors.

Saban and his entertainment enterprises--Saban Entertainment and the since-sold Fox Family Worldwide--have given $467,869 to Davis since 1999, including $50,000 in May. Blum gave $50,600 to Davis in 2000 while companies associated with him contributed another $65,000.

Both men told the Rules Committee that they opposed a proposed ballot initiative by activist Ward Connerly that would prohibit UC and other governmental entities from collecting ethnic, racial and other data.

Blum and Saban said they favored greater economic, ethnic and social diversity at the university and said they would oppose raising student fees as a means of easing the current state budget gap.

The typical UC undergrad student now pays about $4,000 a year, a UC spokesman said.

Blum said that if student fees were to be increased, he would favor boosting the higher fees paid by out-of-state students but would oppose raising fees paid by California residents.

Saban told the committee he favors creating a sliding scale of fees, in which the fee level would reflect the student's economic status. He said sliding-scale fees would make it easier for low-income and minority students to attend, but would not discourage wealthier students from enrolling in the state's universities.

For years, Democratic and Republican governors have been accused of rewarding their favorite campaign contributors with seats on the Board of Regents. Davis and his predecessor, Pete Wilson, have denied those accusations and said they chose nominees capable of overseeing the prestigious system.

John Gamboa of the Greenlining Institute in the Bay Area said Blum and Saban fit the notion that governors reward their white, wealthy male supporters with appointments to the Board of Regents.

"We have an appearance in this state that government is for sale," said Gamboa, who spoke before the committee.

Another witness, Leo Avila, representing the American GI Forum, echoed the assertion that appointments to government offices in California "appear to be for sale. That bothers me."

He said this diminishes the political power of minority groups because people of color cannot match the big contributions of wealthy white people. Those and other speakers, however, said their criticisms were directed at Davis, not the nominees.

"I share your concern," Senate leader John L. Burton (D-San Francisco), told the witnesses.

Burton, who chairs the committee and who often criticizes fellow Democrat Davis, said Rules Committee members are "aware of the lack of diversity" in the appointment of regents by Davis. He accused the governor of "some dereliction ... in not getting more diversity" in his appointments to the UC board.

Times staff writer Dan Morain contributed to this article.

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