It’s money, baby. Campaign money and, of course, public money. With just under a month to go and the new Field Poll showing what all polls besides the L.A. Times poll show — a big lead for the recall and a tight race between Cruz Bustamante and Arnold Schwarzenegger, leader of a Republican pack that became a bit less fractured with Peter Ueberroth’s withdrawal after the poll was conducted — money matters more than ever. Before we get to the monetary machinations of Bustamante, easily the swingin’ twister extraordinaire of this race, and of Schwarzenegger, the man with the moola who is nonetheless raising still more, we go to the public’s money. After all, there wouldn’t be a recall at all if the state’s budget weren’t just a leetle bit more out of whack than Gray Davis said he thought it was. But at least Davis knows what caused the state’s record budget crisis. Bustamante does not have a clue. You didn’t read this in the L.A. Times, but the lieutenant governor made a serious gaffe Sunday in Fresno, during and after his big rally.
He gave a major speech announcing that he will spearhead the campaign against Proposition 54, the racial-identity initiative. It’s a way for him to spend millions he has just raised from Indian casinos in violation of state campaign-contribution limits while continuing to promote himself.
Bustamante will star in the commercials. It’s yet another gambit, of course, but arguably legal and what we expect from a career politician handled by Richie Ross, one of the slickest political consultants around. What we don’t expect is that Bustamante, a former Assembly speaker, does not know what caused the state’s record budget crisis. In his speech, he claimed that the power crisis caused the budget crisis.
“We had a $10 billion budget surplus and they [power generators] stole it from us,” Bustamante declared. “Now 50,000 kids can’t afford the higher college tuition we have to charge.” That is simply flat wrong. The budget crisis was caused by the state spending more money than it was taking in, not by money being “stolen” from the state’s general fund by power generators. Thanks to the deregulation scheme that Bustamante co-authored, the generators made off with a lot of money from consumers. But not from the state budget.
After his speech, the Weekly asked Bustamante if he really believed the power crisis caused the budget crisis. He launched into an off-point ramble about the generators manipulating California’s electric-power market. Reminded that that was not the question, Bustamante at first asked the Weekly if we were from California (we’ve met dozens of times), then offered this: “We had to pay substantial amounts of money out of our coffers, in order to be able to pay those electric bills. We had to pay for that. That money came out of the taxpayers.
“They gouged us,” he said, referring to the generators. “They took our money. No matter what you say or how you couch it, those folks took our money. As a result, that’s put us in the deficit situation we are in today.”
Nope. Wrong answer, Cruz. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the lite guv either is dissembling or just does not know what he is talking about. The power crisis did not cause the budget crisis, as anyone who bothered to read the newspapers during the power crisis knows.
With the utilities essentially insolvent, for a time the state took over the role of buying electric power on the spot market. Fortunately, Gray Davis and other elected officials who do things, such as Treasurer Phil Angelides, realized that the power purchases could create a state budget problem, so they pushed through a plan to sell power bonds, which more than covered the state’s power purchases, leaving the state’s general fund intact. Despite what Bustamante quite insistently said, the state’s power purchases had no effect on the state’s budget.
It is obvious that Bustamante does not know what caused the state budget crisis, which precipitated the recall election in which he is now participating. He also does not understand the dynamics of the power crisis, merely the seminal event in the unraveling of Gray Davis’ political standing.
Fortunately for Bustamante, Richie Ross understands another kind of money. Political money. As reported by the Weekly, the clever consultant tried to slip through a purported loophole in the Proposition 34 campaign-spending limits to launder huge contributions from Indian casino interests into the Bustamante campaign. He then decided to ignore a late-breaking state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) opinion saying this should not be done, continuing to take huge checks. Democrats said they didn’t expect the press, distracted by decades-old Schwarzeneggerian musings about life’s excesses in the fast lane, to make a big deal out of it, so he would keep taking the big casino money.
However, anticipating more heat, Ross came up with a plan to spend the tainted millions on anti–Prop. 54 ads starring Bustamante, who read the relevant text at his rally word for word, looking down at it. Some say that may not pass legal muster, either.