At Least They’re Good at Something

One would think after their abysmal performance this year that California’s lawmakers would slink away in shame, spend long hours in self-flagellation, donate generously to a domestic violence center, hand out groceries at a food bank or scour bedpans with Mother Teresa’s nuns in Calcutta – some repentant act to atone for their 2008 sins against the People of California. 

The budget is the most important public policy utterance California lawmakers and the governor make each year. What they agreed on is unspeakably awful, a document that only compounds the state’s recurring gap between revenues and spending commitments. 

As State Treasurer Bill Lockyer said, the plan “gives gimmicks a bad name.”  The budget sucks mightly and, as insult to injury, was 85 days late — a record for incompetence unrivaled in California’s 158 years of statehood. 

So, again, one would think lawmakers would be paralyzed by self-loathing over the irresponsibility of their inaction and hole up somewhere to get right with themselves and their creator. 

Not so much. There were at least 30 fundraisers in the 31 days of October. 

Within 10 days of Governor Schwarzenegger’s signature on the big $140 billion steamer, President Pro Tempore Elect Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat, was hosting a golf classic at Big Horn Golf Club in Palm Desert. 

A foursome, tee prizes, commemorative gifts, a spot at the Awards Ceremony Reception and four tickets to a “VIP Dinner” with Steinberg could be had for $30,200. A single golfer could tee it up for $7,500. 

While there were more than 30 fundraisers, the good news is that many of them were not in Sacramento. Incumbents tend to have lower cost fundraisers in their districts in the fall to raise a little coin while pressing flesh with their constituents. Often Senate or Assembly leaders lend their names to the event. 

Not to pick on Darrell but he “cordially invites you to attend the 10th Annual Senator Ellen M. Corbett Oktoberfest” at the Englander Pub in San Leandro. 

While the invitation caters to the well-heeled Sacramento interest groups – a $3,600 “Pilsner” buys 20 tickets, individual tickets are $50 to encourage constituents to hoist a few with Ellen. Oddly, a $1,000 “Hefeweizen” contribution only buys 10 tickets – far cheaper just to buy 10 individual tickets at $50 a throw. 

Copycat Wes Chesbro, the former state Senator who now is bringing his special brand of leadership to the Assembly, also had an “Octoberfest” –albeit spelled differently than Ellen’s – but is stunningly unclear on the concept, since he served donors wine from Napa Valley “complimented by wonderful food.”

Memo to Wes: Lager and schnitzel, dunkauf. 

The October fundraisers in Sacramento tend to be Assembly and Senate candidates rather than incumbents. The candidates blow into town, vigorously shake down the interest groups who will be asking for their vote come January, and then hop back on the campaign trail.  

Often Senate or Assembly leaders lend their name to a candidate’s Sacramento event as well. 

For example: “Speaker Karen Bass and the Assembly Democratic Caucus cordially invite you to a luncheon honoring Joan Buchanan, candidate, 15th Assembly District.” 

Or lunch at the Esquire Grill with the self-described Honorable Dan Logue, Republican nominee for the 3rd Assembly District. For a $3,600 contribution, the maximum under state campaign finance laws, a giver can become a “Logue Pioneer Member.” The invitation is silent on what special rank and privileges are attached thereto. 

The irony of these candidate fundraisers is that the races for most of the candidates aren’t in dispute. The legislative boundary lines drawn in the last redistricting ensure, in nearly all cases, that Democratic seats stay Democratic and vice versa. 

Assemblyman Joe Coto, a San Jose Democrat, provided some business for the new Cosmopolitan Café on Sacramento’s K St. Mall ,offering cigars and cocktails for $1,000 a person. 

In a twist on the usual fundraising theme, Sen. Alex Padilla, a Los Angeles Democrat, hosted a fundraiser in the Wine Country to put some seed money into California 2020, “a state committee formed to support and oppose ballot measures.” 

Like Corbett, he opted for cutesy donation levels. A $5,000 contribution is a “Magnum” which yields four tickets. Two tickets for $2,500 is “Vintage.” A “Connoisseur” is a $1,500 solo ticket. Tee. Hee. 

It’s unknown whether Speaker Bass possesses the same level of golfing expertise as Darrell Steinberg but she is striving to maintain golf tournament parity between the two houses. 

Hers was sponsored by the California Democratic Party and the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians at the Barona Valley Ranch Resort. The “Supreme,” at a cost of $25,00 yielded four hotel rooms Friday, admission for four to a VIP reception and dinner on Friday and golf on Saturday. 

Assemblyman Jared Huffman, a San Rafael Democrat and former Natural Resources Defense Council lawyer, held his second annual “Trash Bash” at the Marin Recycling Center. A “Jolly Green Giant” sponsor gets four tickets for $2,500. A “Rajah of Recycling” giver of $1,000 gets two tickets. 

In yet another sad commentary on the Incredible Shrinking Newspaper Industry, Sen. Joe Simitian, a Palo Alto Democrat and bona fide doctor of Thinkology, held a “lively” discussion about media, politics, race and gender in Campaign 2008 featuring three columnists and reporters – all formerly employed by Bay Area newspapers. 

Attention Democrats: Someone needs to send a memo to Bob Blumenfield the candidate for the 40th Assembly District. Maybe he’s trying to be cute but – hello? —only $500 a ticket? Yo, Bobby, if its time to shake the special interest money tree, shake it hard, for Pete’s sake.  

Gov. Schwarzenegger dipped his toe into the tide of fundraisers by appearing at a private dinner in Alamo to raise money for Proposition 11, the redistricting initiative on the November ballot. A bargain at $25,000 per couple. 

The worse news is there are more fundraisers in November. 

Sen. Leland Yee is horning in on Steinberg and Bass’ golf tournament action. He will hold the first modestly named Yee Golf Classic on November 2006 at the home of the 2009 President’s Cup: Harding Park Golf Course in San Francisco. 

Candidate Blumenfield might wish to take a page out of the Yee playbook: 

A “Platinum Sponsor” at Yee Fest ’08 gets their name on all promotional materials for the tournament, “special recognition” at the tournament, golf for eight, hotel accommodations, cocktails and dinner with the good senator and, naturally, commemorative gifts.  Price tag? A ridiculously low $50,000. 

All of which goes to show that it would be completely wrong for Californians to believe their elected representatives are a raggedy-ass bunch of inept do-nothings. They’re damn gifted when it comes to hitting folks up for money. 


Filed under: Venting

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