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News has reached me on vacation in London that unGovernor Gray Davis has renegotiated his contract with Gore-guys Mark Fabiani and Chris Lehane.

As Davis saw his poll numbers plunge in the wake of blackouts and the dawning public recognition that the power crisis could have been avoided entirely had Davis acted in the late spring of 2000 (which Republicans in Sacramento were urging him to do), he reached out for these political hit-men. Together they devised the attack-and-libel strategy which has now labeled California as the most business-unfriendly state in the union. Davis has threatened, whined, schemed and trimmed for three months now, and Fabiani and Lehane have been behind it every step of the way.

But these two were put on the public payroll, and taxpayers were unhappy. Davis was buffeted by Democrats and Republicans who demanded that taxpayers should not be paying for the unGovernor’s re-election team’s advice. Further, both men were employed by Southern California Edison, and objective observers wondered aloud how that could possibly be legal: If “conflict-of-interest” meant anything, how could it not prohibit Edison and California from employing the same “consultants” at the same time.

The heat on Davis got hotter, and last week he took a page from Clinton’s Big Book of Dissembling: He cut the $30,000-a-month contract down to somewhere around $9,900 monthly, and he announced that only Lehane would be employed.

What a dodge. Only the Left Angeles Times can be expected to fall for this. Davis says that Lehane will not work for Edison while working for Davis. Davis also says that the $9,900 a month is the same as he used to pay his communications director. Left unanswered (and apparently unasked by the Sacramento press corps) are the following questions:

1. Has Fabiani severed ties with Edison? If not, since he and Lehane are partners, doesn’t the conflict or the appearance of a conflict remain just as strong as it was last week?

2. Davis is implying that Lehane is sort of his new communications director. Fine. Did your old communications director have any other clients? Has Lehane disclosed all of his clients and the amount they are paying him? When will he do so? Has any “communications director” in the history of the state had outside clients that could profit from inside knowledge of what the governor is about to do? And how about those Lehane investments – the advice he is giving affects a lot of stock prices in a direct and immediate way. Has Lehane made any stock trades since joining the staff? Has he sold all of his holdings like Karl Rove has done?

3. Davis appears to have admitted that the conflict issue is real because he pointed out that Lehane will not be working for Edison while he is working for the governor. The same concern should also animate a review of all other Lehane (and Fabiani) clients. Would you be concerned to discover that Lehane was working for the tobacco industry? How about the California wine industry? How about the People’s Republic of China? What about the United Teachers of Los Angeles? I don’t know who he works for, and neither do you. That’s the problem the disclosure forms are intended to solve. But Lehane appears to be walled off from public inspection of potential conflicts.

4. Since Davis implicitly concedes that it was wrong to have had Edison’s consultants on the taxpayer payroll, will that invoice be left unpaid? If it has been paid, will there be an investigation into violations of California’s disclosure and conflicts laws? Since California’s Attorney General Bill Lockyer is a political hack who doesn’t know on which side of the courtroom the prosecutor sits, who will carry out this investigation?

5. Finally, will the California and national press hound Davis for answers the way they have routinely hounded Republicans in the past? The Davis ethics gap is much greater than California’s deposed Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quakenbush, who mixed his political interests with his public duties. The Lost Angeles Times pursued Quakenbush with the zeal of a Democratic operative, which indeed under the new Tribune Company management, it has become. Now it generally repeats the Davis line and moves on. Perhaps there is a real newspaper somewhere in the state that will address the Quakenbush-Davis parallel, and do so quickly.

The weather has been cooperating with the unGovernor, and that goes into his “good luck” column. But the state and the national press have also been coming through for him, which has nothing to do with his luck, and everything to do with media bias.

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