Breaking Stories: Charity At Home

— Any doubters of Jesse Unruh's old adage that "money is the mother's milk of politics" need only look at the 2007 endorsement questionnaire issued by the county's GOP Central Committee for city council candidates, technically elected as nonpartisans. Nothing about municipal bankruptcy or fire protection here. Instead, the party wants to know, "Who is your Campaign Fundraiser? How much do you expect to raise for June '08? How much have you raised so far? How much are you willing to contribute yourself? Do you belong to one of the party's Donor Clubs? Will you actively help raise money for the party?" and last, "Have you ever been convicted of a felony?" ... So-called behesting, the ethically dubious but perfectly legal practice of state and local officeholders encouraging campaign donors and other special interests to contribute to the politicians' favorite charities, is drawing more scrutiny now that the state's Fair Political Practices Commission has posted disclosure records on its website. (Previously the information was available only to those who trekked up to Sacramento to sit in the agency's cramped document reading room.)

Some of the causes seem more charitable than others. For example, San Diego lawyer and lobbyist Christine Frahm gave $1000 to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's 2007 inaugural committee, and Sempra Energy gave $5000 to help host the inaugural bash of Judy Chu, a State Board of Equalization member from Los Angeles. Southern California Edison and PG&E each contributed the same. In May, on the other hand, the now-defunct downtown law firm of Lerach Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins gave $5000 to the Oakland School for the Arts at the behest of Attorney General Jerry Brown. Last month the firm's founder, William Lerach, pled guilty to charges relating to a conspiracy to kick back fees to clients who agreed to be lead plaintiffs in the firm's class-action lawsuits.

In March, Padres owner and multimillionaire venture capital investor John Moores gave $100,000 to the Rebuilding California Foundation at the behest of Democratic senator Don Perata. In August, Perata got Chargers owner and megamillionaire developer Alex Spanos to give $25,000 to the same cause. According to the Sacramento Bee, money from the foundation was used in part to pay for billboards thanking Perata for passing an infrastructure bond issue last year.

James Kimbrell gave $5000 to Citizens for the California Republic on the say-so of GOP senator Tom McClintock. McClintock founded the nonprofit organization earlier this year "to provide a vehicle to amplify and broadcast McClintock's commentaries and proposals to an awakening constituency throughout California," according to its website.

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