Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

POINTS WEST

Shameless Governor Is a Compulsive Money-Grubber

May 15, 2002|Steve Lopez

If you're reading this over bacon and eggs, Gov. Gray Davis has already raised about $10,000 in campaign contributions today. If you're reading at dinner, rest assured Davis is working harder than anyone in hot pants and pumps, hustling to stay on his pace of $35,000 a day and $1million a month.

The state of California is not doing nearly as well. With a budget deficit that has ballooned to $23.6billion on his watch, Davis was forced to take time out from his busy fund-raising schedule Tuesday to be governor.

I thought maybe he was going to offer the state a loan from his reelection campaign fund. Instead, he came up with a plan to strip health-care services for the poor, chop education funding and raise taxes, which he'd told us he would never do.

But neither the suffering of the poor nor the jeers of critics will distract Davis from his one true passion--the donation shakedown.

He's a marathon man who doesn't break a sweat or get a single hair out of place, let alone display anything resembling a human emotion, even when caught in compromising positions with his donors. It's almost as if he's got a pathological disorder.

Just out of curiosity, I did a little research and came upon the National Institute of Mental Health Web site, which describes obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) like this:

"The individual who suffers from OCD becomes trapped in a pattern of repetitive thoughts and behaviors that are senseless and distressing but extremely difficult to overcome.... If severe and left untreated [OCD] can destroy a person's capacity to function at work."

Ring-a-ding-ding.

The way Davis works donors, you'd think he was running against the ghost of Ronald Reagan, when in fact Bill Simon is the ghost of Dan Lungren. That's two flat-footed oafs in a row as opponents, and yet Davis raises money like he's having a nervous breakdown.

Two UCLA psychiatrists told me Davis' behavior doesn't necessarily mean he has OCD. But I can't think of a kinder act on my part than to attribute Davis' behavior to a medical condition. No one of sound mind can be as unremittingly shameless in hitting people up for money.

Teachers, prison guards, software salesmen, energy barons, grandmothers, enterprises big and small--Davis has his hand out to one and all. If your child puts up a lemonade stand this summer and someone pulls up in a limo to strong-arm a piece of the action, you'll know who.

In what might be Davis' lowest, grubbiest act to date, one of his fund-raisers invited UC Berkeley students to come chat with the governor. "This is a great opportunity to interact with the governor for a mere $100," the e-mail said.

Bruce Cain, of UC Berkeley's Institute of Governmental Studies, recalled one of these students running into his office, stunned by the brazen come-on.

"He was in a tizzy about it, saying I wasn't going to believe what just happened," says Cain, who thinks there might be something to the idea that Davis should have his head looked at by trained professionals. "He is a compulsive human being who has allowed his compulsiveness to consume him."

On Sunday, my colleague Dan Morain wrote about California Teachers Assn. President Wayne Johnson's Valentine's Day visit with the governor in Sacramento. It almost sounded like a visit to a Mafia don, so I called Johnson to see if he wouldn't mind re-creating the scene for me.

"We sat down and started talking, I forget about what; some legislation, I guess," says Johnson, who was with two aides. "So we're talking, and out of the blue, he said, 'I need a million dollars from you guys.'"

It almost sounds like Tourette's syndrome; an uncontrollable neurological impulse. I asked Johnson if there was any detectable change in Davis. A normal person can't ask someone for a million dollars without guilt, fear or shame creeping into his eyes.

"Nothing," Johnson said.

There was a silent, pregnant pause, he says. Johnson didn't respond to the request, and Davis didn't repeat it. Just silence. Then the conversation picked up where it left off, as if nothing had happened.

"It didn't seem to throw him at all," Johnson says. A month later, Johnson added, Davis hit him up again for the million.

Hot pants and pumps, 24-7.

Davis palmed more than $2 million in campaign contributions from prison guards, then handed them a gargantuan raise even as the budget deficit grew into double-digit billions. Last year, after Oracle won a sweetheart $95-million, no-bid contract from the state, Davis got a $25,000 check from an Oracle lobbyist.

Why would he risk public flogging for such smarmy displays?

It's part calculation. Davis knows he'd have to commit greater sins than selling off contracts and access before Democrats go running into Bill Simon's arms.

And it's part obsessive compulsion. Prozac is often prescribed, but there may be no drug powerful enough.

*

Steve Lopez writes Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Reach him at steve.lopez@latimes.com.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|