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Davis Fund-Raiser to Follow Signing of Rail Bond Plan

Legislation: Backers of the bill will fete the governor, who approved putting financing of a high-speed line on the ballot in 2004.


SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gray Davis will be feted at a fund-raiser today, put on by builders and other advocates of high-speed rail, a day after he signed legislation asking voters to approve a $9.9-billion bond to finance construction of a high-speed train system in California.

The fund-raiser is being held at the Santa Clara home of Rod Diridon, the Davis-appointed chairman of the California High Speed Rail Authority, which is advocating the bullet train.

In an e-mail to potential donors, Diridon, a former Santa Clara County supervisor, exhorted people "who will build, operate and maintain the system throughout the nation and especially here in California" to attend the event.

In an interview, Diridon said there was a problem "only in perception" with the timing of the fund-raiser. He added that he has hosted fund-raisers for many Democratic gubernatorial candidates and makes "no apology for trying to raise all the money I can possibly raise to keep a person who supports my ideals in office."

A California Republican Party spokesman, Sean Walsh, accused Davis of timing his decision to sign the high-speed rail legislation with the fund-raiser, a charge that Davis aides denied.

"The politics and [gubernatorial] maneuvering surrounding the signing of this bill were used as an engine to generate campaign contributions," Walsh said. "This governor has a history of accepting campaign contributions days before or days after he takes government action."

Davis campaign spokesman Roger Salazar denied any connection between the fund-raiser and the legislation, adding that this evening's event is not solely for boosters of high-speed rail. Salazar said that Davis' aides who help raise money had been unaware of the approval of the rail bill.

Several California newspapers gave prominent play to the legislation when it was approved Aug. 30, the second to last day of the legislative session.

"There is no way our finance team knows about legislation when they put these types of things together," Salazar said, adding: "They don't read that kind of thing" in newspapers.

Davis has been keeping a full fund-raising schedule, even though September is one of the busiest months for a governor. In the first 17 days of September, he raised $2.5 million. Davis has until the end of September to decide whether to sign or veto more than 1,200 bills approved in the closing days of the legislative session.

"I don't think there was ever any question that the governor was going to sign that bill," Diridon said. "There was no need for us to run a fund-raiser to get him to sign the bill. That's silly. He has been a supporter of high-speed rail since he first ran for office."

Davis signed the bill Thursday to place the bond measure on the 2004 ballot. The money would help finance a bullet train that would speed riders between Los Angeles and San Francisco and Sacramento in two hours.

Davis, facing reelection on Nov. 5, signed the bill in a ceremony at the California Railroad Museum, which is dedicated to rail cars and locomotives from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

"Just imagine going from Sacramento to Los Angeles in two hours, not flying, but on high-speed rail," Davis said, with a meticulously restored locomotive from the era of streamliner trains as a backdrop.

Backers of the bill, SB 1856 by Sen. Jim Costa (D-Fresno), said the project would be the biggest public works construction program ever undertaken in the United States and would help meet escalating transportation demands of the 21st century.

For some high-speed rail enthusiasts, the bill's signing represented a turning point in three decades of struggle. If voters approve the bond measure, construction could start soon after the 2004 election and be finished around 2020.

Davis said the bill launches a "new era" of transportation in California that would rival the accomplishments of former Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, who is credited with constructing the California Water Project, expanding the University of California and leading the nation in building freeways.

Diridon's fund-raising e-mail calls Davis a strong supporter of high-speed rail, and urges donations of at least $2,000 per couple "to help assure his reelection."

"The governor's campaign staff gave us 11 days to pull this off, and I thought you might be able to help," the e-mail says. "We're committed to $50,000, and are a far pace from that, so are really in need of your assistance and that of any that you think might be willing to help."

Davis campaign fund-raiser Mike Montgomery, in an e-mail to Diridon, said: "I know the time is limited, but let's make this one hugely successful!"

Davis signed several other bills on Thursday:

Health: AB 2178 by Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles) authorizes small and medium-size employers who pay a "living wage" to acquire health-care insurance for employees through a group purchasing program. The bill was sponsored by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy.

Junk faxes: AB 2944 by Assemblywoman Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego) abolishes a weak California law in favor of a stronger federal law requiring mass producers of junk fax advertisements to get recipients' consent before the ads are sent. Some recipients, particularly small-business operators, complain that their fax machines are so overwhelmed with nonstop junk advertising that they become unusable for business purposes.

Davis disclosed that he owns a "little home office" where the fax machine is "constantly getting junk faxes." The bill was co-written by Sen. Debra Bowen (D-Marina del Rey).


Times staff writers Nancy Vogel and Miguel Bustillo contributed to this report.

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