SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gray Davis, whose written policies warn aides against mixing policy and politics, used his Capitol office and had a top government aide with him when he requested a $1-million campaign donation from the California Teachers Assn., people who attended the Valentine's Day meeting said.
California Teachers Assn. President Wayne Johnson said Davis made the solicitation during a talk that focused primarily on policy issues.
Johnson said in two interviews with The Times that he doesn't believe the governor was soliciting money in exchange for support of any union legislation. But the former high school teacher and others at the meeting said they were taken aback that Davis mentioned campaign money in his private Capitol office.
"We were talking about various kinds of things, legislation and problems," Johnson said. "In the middle of the conversation, sort of out of the blue, he said, 'I need $1 million from you guys.' "
Johnson said he, along with two other union officers and the union's governmental affairs director, responded with "absolute stone silence." Cabinet Secretary Susan Kennedy, one of Davis' closest advisors, also said nothing, Johnson recalled. Once the "awkward silence" ended, the discussion returned to policy matters and the meeting ended without resolution of the question of campaign money.
State law bars officials from actually accepting campaign checks in the Capitol but does not prevent them from asking for money on state property. Still, many elected officials in Sacramento decline to discuss donations when they are in the statehouse, preferring to make such requests while at campaign offices scattered near the Capitol.
Davis' initial solicitation in the Capitol did not end the conversation, according to Johnson. Two weeks later, Johnson and Davis appeared together at a Compton school event to encourage students to read, Johnson said. After their public appearance, Davis invited Johnson to a private one-on-one meeting in a Compton Unified School District office.
During that meeting, which occurred a few days before the March 5 primary, Davis told Johnson that the main GOP gubernatorial candidates, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and the ultimate nominee, Bill Simon Jr., would be bad for public education.
"He was running late," Johnson said. "There were people outside who wanted him to go, and he just kept talking.... Again, he said, 'I need $1 million from CTA.'"
Johnson's comments underscore a deepening rift between Davis and a union that is among California's biggest campaign donors and was one of Davis' biggest backers in 1998. In addition, the question of the governor's use of the Capitol for raising money adds to the mounting list of fund-raising issues that Davis is confronting as he runs for reelection.
Already, he and his staff are dealing with criticism relating to contracts with state prison guards and a number of computer firms--in each case, groups that received state money and that donated to Davis' campaign committee.
Davis campaign strategist Garry South declined to discuss Johnson's comments directly, but said the governor has met many times with the union's leaders, "including twice at his home for dinner, at his campaign office, at his Capitol office" and elsewhere.
"During some of those conversations," South added, "CTA offered an endorsement and inquired about how they could provide other assistance in the governor's reelection campaign. The governor recalls those brief discussions, but has no recollection of exactly where they occurred."
Responding to a question about the conversations, Davis last week said: "I don't recall it. I can't tell you with certainty that I didn't make a request."
Johnson first discussed the solicitation in an April 20 speech to the 760-member teacher union's leadership council, and some aspects of it were reported earlier this month in the San Francisco Chronicle. Without mentioning where the request was made, Johnson cited in that speech Davis' opposition to the union's top priority for the year, legislation to make textbooks and other classroom issues subject to collective bargaining. Davis' education advisors have been unanimous in their opposition to the measure.
"He opposes this crucial piece of legislation at the same time he hounds CTA for a million-dollar contribution to his campaign for reelection," Johnson said in the speech.
In an interview with The Times, Johnson said that he doubted Davis' opposition to the bill was based on the union's balking at giving him $1 million. "I honestly believe we could have given him $2 million, and he still would have taken a position against us," Johnson said.
Johnson's disclosure comes after Davis forced Arun Baheti to resign as director of e-government earlier this month. Baheti had accepted a $25,000 donation on Davis' behalf last year from a lobbyist for Oracle Corp., shortly after Oracle won a $95-million software contract with the state.