Davis’ Election Aides Get State Jobs;

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At least 21 who helped the governor have won new posts, promotions.

Los Angeles Times

SACRAMENTO: As California’s budget problems leave the prospect of freezes and layoffs hanging over tens of thousands of state employees, many of the people who worked on Gov. Gray Davis‘ reelection campaign have been given new government jobs or promotions.

At least 21 of the governor’s campaign workers have been either hired into new state jobs or have received promotions despite the current hiring freeze and a call by Davis to cut half a billion dollars annually out of salary and benefit packages for public employees.

Sometimes their salaries come out of the very departments facing cuts that will be directly felt by the public — areas such as environmental protection, disease research and child protection services — even though most of the employees actually work on the governor’s support staff.

Officials from the administration say it’s been the standard practice of many governors to bring loyal and dedicated people from the campaign into government jobs after the election. And they point out that hiring for the governor’s relatively small staff is exempt from the freeze because the loss of just a few people could paralyze operations.

Critics question whether in the midst of a fiscal crisis the governor should be carving money out of the budgets of state agencies so campaign workers can get jobs.

“Schools will be more crowded, hospitals will be shut down and the governor is padding the wallets of his political operatives,” said Doug Heller, senior consumer advocate for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a watchdog group in Santa Monica.

Among the campaign staffers now working for Davis is Amber Pasricha, the governor’s spokeswoman on Indian gaming issues. Her $60,000 annual salary actually comes out of the California Environmental Protection Agency.

Before the campaign, Pasricha was working as a public information officer with the California Consumer Power and Conservation Financing Authority, earning less than $37,000 a year.

Pasricha, who declined to comment on her higher-paying position, is one of nine campaign workers who had state jobs before leaving to help Davis win election and who have returned to government in positions paying thousands more than they were earning before.

An additional 12 who got jobs in the midst of the budget crisis are on record with the controller’s office as never having worked for the state prior to the campaign.

Administration spokesman Steve Maviglio says for the work Pasricha is doing and the number of hours she puts in, taxpayers are getting a bargain.

“Amber and Gabe started as newspaper clippers,” he said, referring to Pasricha and Gabriel Sanchez, a deputy press secretary whose state salary doubled since the time he left government in May of 2000 for a job as a high-ranking campaign worker.

“They are on camera, they have responsibility [to handle media relations] for the agencies. It’s not like they are back in their old jobs making twice as much money.”

Maviglio points out that several campaign aides who applied for jobs in state government didn’t get them. He said former Gov. Pete Wilson did far more extensive hiring of campaign staff.

He says it also is appropriate for the governor to be able to hire staff out of the budgets of other departments.

“We’re going to get blamed for everything these agencies do, so it makes sense to have some people who know what they [the agencies] are doing,” Maviglio said.

But Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., notes that in many cases the person hired has nothing to do with the department from which their salary is drawn. He says it is absurd for the governor to use the budget of a bare-bones environmental protection department to pay for a political appointee who works in Indian gaming.

“How can you tell a Cal/EPA programs analyst who works in pesticide investigation that they are being laid off so a Gray Davis lackey can take their spot?” he asked.

As a result of the state’s fiscal problems, the governor has called on Cal/EPA to eliminate vacant epidemiological and other positions in programs that assess the risk of pesticides to migrant farm workers and others.

Though a few of the former campaign workers are doing jobs relevant to the departments that employ them, most are directly supporting Davis.

The Department of Conservation, which under the governor’s budget proposal could lose as many as eight staff members who inspect mining operations, is paying the salary for Carol Dahmen, a deputy communications director for Davis whose responsibilities include organizing meetings and events, among other things.

Dahmen, a former spokeswoman for the department, was earning $83,856 before the campaign. She returned to a job with a salary of $90,000 — though that amount has been reduced temporarily by 5% as a result of the cut the governor enacted for his executive staff.

Dahmen did not return a call, but Maviglio points out that she is only “on loan” to the governor’s office, and the position will be returned to the department eventually.

But just as administration officials say every position in the governor’s office is crucial, environmentalists say that the same holds true for resource protection, and that Davis is unjustified in raiding that budget.

“If they are not doing environmental work, we don’t think we should be paying for it,” said Dan Jacobson, legislative director for the nonprofit Environment California.

It’s not just the resource protection agencies that are paying for the governor’s staff. Several salaries come from health care and social service budgets.

Laura Adleman, a chief speechwriter for the governor, draws her $63,000 salary from the Department of Social Services. Before the campaign, she was earning less than $50,000 doing research and writing at the Department of Justice.

The Department of Child Support Services funds the $38,000 salary of the governor’s “body man” — an assistant who keeps the governor on schedule.

Dana Williamson, who also works on the governor’s staff and is not on record as having a state salaried job before, draws her $83,856 annual salary form the Department of Managed Care.

Heller says he is particularly troubled by the campaign staffers who found their way onto the Sacramento payroll despite no previous state government experience.

“These are good jobs, and there are not many of them available right now,” he said. “It is totally unacceptable for Gov. Davis to be providing special opportunities to repay his campaign staff.”

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