By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
L.A. Assemblyman Dario Frommer is well-aware of Ross’ aggressiveness. Frommer wants to make it illegal for a lobbyist to pitch legislators for whom he is also a political consultant.
“If Cruz wins, I’m his [Ross’] number-one target. He’s made that clear,” says Frommer, a former top aide to state Democratic chairman Art Torres, who served as political director of Davis’ 1998 gubernatorial campaign and was appointments secretary for the governor.
“Everyone thinks Cruz takes all of Richie’s advice and worships him, that he doesn’t get up in the morning without consulting Richie,” says Frommer, who has endorsed Bustamante. “I don’t know that that is true; Cruz is no neophyte.” Asked if the non-neophyte Bustamante would protect him from Ross, Frommer said he didn’t know.
Ross has tremendous clout with the Latino Legislative Caucus, having run the campaigns of many members. But he has enemies, too, who successfully pushed for former L.A. Senator Richard Polanco to play a major advisory role with Bustamante.
But the irony is that Ross and Polanco — himself a controversial pol who dropped a bid for the L.A. City Council in the wake of reports that the state paid a huge settlement to a former Polanco aide who charged the former state senator with sexual harassment — have been longtime allies. The two worked closely together in the election of L.A. Senator Richard Alarcon, who narrowly defeated veteran politician Richard Katz in a Democratic primary in 1998. Katz was the Assembly Democratic leader who engineered the party’s retaking of the Assembly in 1996 after a brief Republican interregnum. But he could not take the Assembly speakership for himself because of term limits. So the prize passed to Bustamante instead.
The budget Bustamante proposed as part of his current campaign has Ross’ fingerprints all over it. A set of notions with numbers attached, clever and evanescent — with tax hikes and painless budget “cuts” — it is designed to appeal to no more than 35 percent to 40 percent of the voters, the hardcore Democratic base that some strategists believe may be enough to hold off Schwarzenegger if McClintock takes away enough conservative Republican votes. (Bustamante completely reversed himself when he called for new tobacco taxes. He has a long history of taking money from tobacco companies and lobbyists: $40,000 came from Philip Morris and $22,500 from the Tobacco Institute. Bustamante voted against California’s ban on workplace smoking. After it passed, he voted to weaken it.)
Bustamante’s declaration of candidacy called for “tough love” but left the prison guards union (whose lucrative new contract adds hundreds of millions to the budget) and Indian casino interests (which pay no state gaming tax, compared to 7% that Las Vegas casinos pay and 25% that Indians pay in states like Connecticut), two of his biggest backers, alone. This may be his undoing. For Bustamante plans to raise millions from the flush new casinos, whose agenda is a massive expansion around California.
Indian casino tribes have poured $120 million into state political campaigns since 1998. These tribes have already contributed nearly $4 million in direct donations to Bustamante since 1993, including a $300,000 donation given from the Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay Indians, a tribe that runs a San Diego–area casino, and another $500,000 from the Pechanga Band of Mission Indians, to be laundered through an old campaign committee for lieutenant governor directly into his new campaign committee for governor. This is in contravention of the Prop. 34 campaign-finance-reform limits and in defiance of a new ruling from the Fair Political Practices Commission, which days earlier had said it was okay.
By the end of the week, after the practice was exposed, Bustamante went right ahead soliciting and receiving more big casino money for his laundry committee. On Tuesday, the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians announced it will give a record $2 million to three of Bustamante’s funds.
In a career in which showing up at the right place and time has made all the difference, this may be the wrong place and the wrong time. Woody Allen left that part out.