THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
Summer in Sacramento, a time when hundreds of bills are up for passage — and hundreds of thousands of dollars flow into legislators’ campaigns from an endless stream of end-of-session fundraisers.
But this year — with the pols raising cash in chunks of anywhere from $1,000 to $5,300 a head at more than 135 breakfasts, lunches, dinners and cocktail parties — there’s an uninvited guest: Batman.
The caped crusader — a.k.a. Kevin Baker of the California Nurses Association — took up his post Thursday outside Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s big-bucks bash at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Sacramento, attended by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. As the lobbyists and other donors arrived, the Batman-costumed Baker asked over and over, “I sense much power here — can you tell me the source of that power?”
Baker is just one of a slew of party crashers sent out by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, the nonprofit arm of the coalition behind this fall’s Yes on Prop. 89 public financing campaign initiative.
Another star of the walkway is Angela Eckert, an actress hired to pose as a TV reporter with microphone in hand and camera crew in tow.
Eckert dashed to six fundraisers in two hours one evening last week to interview guests.
“Do you have to wear a special pair of shoes to go to every fundraiser — that’s a lot of walking around?” Eckert asked an arriving lobbyist, who had attended more than one affair.
“My shoes already hurt me,” the guest replied. “I probably need another pair.” (You can check out the crashers at their www.channel89.org web site.)
Just to make their antics a bit more interesting, foundation executive Doug Heller and his hell-raisers have also invited the public to take part in a “Crashing the Cash” challenge — promising a free pair of Sacramento Kings tickets to whoever “can sweet-talk, cajole or guilt their way into the most fundraisers” by the end of the legislative session. Contestants get double points for “getting your picture taken with the politician.”
All joking aside, Heller said that with more than 1,700 pieces of legislation pending — affecting everything from cable regulation to global warming — all the schmoozing between politicians and powerful money interests has repercussions for the public.
“It’s just disgusting because at the end of the day, there is zero public interest in allowing politicians to hold fundraisers while legislating,” Heller said.
Not so, said the lawmakers we talked with Tuesday.
“At the end of the day, you don’t make a decision based on contributions — you are much more likely to be influenced by organizations or public opinion,” said outgoing Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla, D-Pittsburg, who has a $1,000-a-head event scheduled for today to raise money for his 2008 state Senate campaign.
Republican Assemblyman Guy Houston of Livermore, who held his $1,000-a-head party at Chops just across from the Capitol last week, said legislators know right from wrong and that FBI investigations and Sacramento stings in of recent years “have made it pretty clear there is a clear line between fundraising and lawmaking.”
Still, there’s no shortage of opportunities for donors to see — and be seen with — politicians. One day last week, some two dozen fundraisers were held in the private clubs, restaurants, hotels and art galleries around Sacramento.
On Tuesday, another 16 money parties were held — including a $1,000- to $3,300-a-head cocktail reception for Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, at Spataro on L Street — a short hop from the Capitol.
“It’s a bad joke at this point — the lobbyists are going to 10 or 15 events a night,” said Leno, whose safe seat allows him to use most of the money he collects to help other Democratic candidates.
“It’s a ridiculous system,” Leno said. “We really need clean money. We need Prop. 89,” which would sharply limit political contributions in addition to creating public financing of campaigns.
Today, 17 more events are on tap — including a $1,500-to-$3,300-a-head Krispy Kreme doughnuts “healthy breakfast” gathering for Assemblyman Rick Keene, R-Chico.
Even San Francisco Supervisor Fiona Ma, the Democratic nominee for the 12th Assembly District, was up in Sacramento the other day hosting a $1,000-a-plate luncheon at Frank Fat’s. From what we hear, she’s looking to raise a cool $500,000, despite facing only token Republican opposition this November.
Why so much money?
To help the party leadership, and ensure that she gets the committee assignments of her choice.