Davis at Fund-Raiser as His Bill Languishes

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Critics say he should have been at Capitol

The San Francisco Chronicle

While the Assembly struggled — and failed — to pass a bill aimed at keeping hundreds of small energy generators from bankruptcy, Gov. Gray Davis attended a $10,000-a-head golf fund-raiser yesterday in Palm Desert.

Organized by Duane Dauner, president of the California Healthcare Association, the event was held at Bighorn Golf Club, a luxurious private country club of which Dauner is a member.

Davis’ top political adviser said the governor didn’t play golf, just stopped by a luncheon before the round began so he could return to Sacramento.

But during Davis’ absence, a bill he backed — critical to bailing out small power generators — languished in the Assembly.

On Thursday, lawmakers canceled next week’s long-planned annual trip to Washington, D.C., to focus on energy issues.

“There is not a lot of electricity to be found on the golf course,” said Harvey Rosenfield of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a chief critic of Davis and the state’s utilities. “He ought to be in Sacramento to try and solve the crisis and not prospecting for contributions in the grass in Palm Springs.”

The Democratic governor has been frequently criticized for the time he spends raising money for his campaign fund, money that comes from well-heeled interests with dozens of issues pending before his administration.

Since becoming governor, Davis amassed $25 million by the end of 2000 — averaging more than $1 million a month in contributions, often from fund-raisers directed at specific industries.

Garry South, Davis’ political adviser, said Davis was in Palm Springs to dedicate a University of California building and “dropped by a lunch” preceding the golf.

South said the fund-raiser “was a diverse group of people that paid varying amounts of money.”

Lawmakers canceled their yearly visit to federal officials on issues important to the Golden State because they didn’t want to give the impression that “there was somewhere else more important than California,” said state Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland.

Raising money at a tony golf resort during the crisis simply looks bad, Perata said.

“We have to be really careful because the public’s patience and their confidence in what we’re asking them to do depends on how they see us reacting to the problem,” he said. “This will be negatively interpreted.”

Other lawmakers said the governor’s top-level staff was working on the problem but acknowledged the golfing fund-raiser looked bad.

“It’s not the best symbolic message, but I feel we have to give him the benefit of the doubt,” said Assemblywoman Carole Migden, D-San Francisco.

Davis did appear briefly yesterday on nationally broadcast CNBC to talk about the energy crisis and blast power generators for allegedly overcharging the state. He appeared live from Palm Springs.

The California Healthcare Association represents nearly 500 hospitals and boasts on its Web site that it “influences public policy development through both legislative and regulatory advocacy efforts.”

Last month, the group introduced a legislative package to expand nursing education and streamline college requirements for nurses.

One of the bills calls for spending $120 million a year on nursing classes.

The group also is lobbying the new Department of Managed Health Care, which is staffed by Davis appointees, to speed up payment of $1 billion in late bills owed to hospitals.

Davis signed a bill last year that gave the HMO czar the power to sanction health care plans for failing to pay Dauner’s clients, the hospitals, on time.

In his first six months in office, Davis attended a fund-raising dinner at Dauner’s house that brought in an estimated $100,000. It was part of a spree that netted the governor a record-breaking $6.1 million in half a year.

At the time, Dauner told the Los Angeles Times: “We don’t talk policy at those kinds of things, or legislation. This was really more of a social event. He talked about his goals and probably spent more time discussing education than anything else.”

Dauner could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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