Financial, personal connections raise questions in Davis appointments

By Scott Lindlaw
Published March 14, 1999. Copyright, Associated Press.

SACRAMENTO (AP) -- While Terry M. Giles' four-page resume lists one success after another in law and business, there is no trace of environmental experience. Giles himself says his background is not particularly "green."

Even so, Gov. Gray Davis has named Giles to the powerful governing body created by Congress to halt environmental deterioration in the Lake Tahoe region.

Giles, a conservative Republican, does possess one distinction few other Californians can claim: Records show he has donated $278,000 since 1994 to the Democratic governor's political campaigns.

In fact, an Associated Press review of Davis' first 70 appointments showed at least 18 donated to his gubernatorial campaign. That excludes contributions by their companies, unions and family members.

In many cases, the individuals contributed just before Election Day -- when it was clear Davis would win -- or even weeks after the election.

The three University of California regents appointed by Davis on Thursday gave personal checks totaling $198,000 to his campaigns. One, loan company executive Judith Hopkinson, lists no educational experience beyond earning her bachelor's degree in the biography distributed by the governor's office.

The governor's spokesman says all his appointments are based upon credentials, not connections. And many of the choices have drawn praise from environmentalists, educators and business leaders.

Still, a handful of the appointments raise questions about the influence of financial and personal ties in the new Davis administration.

"It would be a shame if appointments are being given out based on campaign contributions and not qualifications, and thankfully we have better disclosure of contributions now that helps us distinguish between patronage and public service," said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation.

"The danger is that we wouldn't have the best-qualified people representing the people's interests on the hundreds of boards and commissions that exist in California," she said. "These boards and commissions are involved in almost every aspect of every Californian's life, whether they realize it or not."

One such panel is the Air Resources Board, which is charged with cleaning up the nation's dirtiest air. Davis named C. Hugh Friedman, one of the state's foremost experts on corporate law, to the board.

There is little evidence that Friedman meets the state law requiring board members to have a "demonstrated interest and proven ability in the field of air pollution."

Friedman, however, happens to be the husband of Davis' right-hand woman, senior counselor Lynn Schenk, a relationship not disclosed in the press release announcing the appointment.

The board he is joining regulates engine manufacturers, refiners, and other large-scale polluters, and oversees 35 regional pollution control districts that issue rules and permits for local businesses.

The 11-member board in recent months has imposed new pollution-fighting requirements on makers of sport-utility vehicles, pleasure boats, motorcycles, even forklifts. Forcing locomotives to use cleaner diesel fuel and investigating the effects of smog on children are on its agenda this year.

The 15-member Tahoe Regional Planning Agency issues permits for virtually any development that affects environmental quality in the region. It recently banned most Jet Skis and other polluting personal watercraft from the lake, and will soon consider changing how it regulates the strip around the lake that includes sensitive wetlands and fish habitats.

Its newest member, Giles, has built a pugnacious reputation in a long career of sensational cases. Recently, while helping Monica Lewinsky's ex-lover go public about their five-year affair, he portrayed the former White House intern as "a young lady obsessed with sex who went to Washington, D.C., with an agenda."

Giles, 50, says his passion for the lake qualifies him for the agency.

"I really believe in the beauty of the area, and the purity of the lake and everything we can do make sure that is maintained," Giles said in a telephone interview.

Reminded that nothing in his professional background reflects an interest in the lake or environmental issues, he said: "That would probably be true."

Giles, who lives in Rancho Santa Fe and owns a vacation home at Lake Tahoe, had one experience with the TRPA, which he is joining as an unpaid member: he had to get approvals to alter his bed and breakfast on the lake's west shore.

"I'm not anti-development at all, but I'll tell you what: things done around that lake, one has to be very, very careful about everything that is done in that Lake Tahoe area," he said. "Environmentally, any impact on the lake has to be nullified completely, in my opinion."

Giles, who asked for the job, denied that his donations had any role. He attributes the appointment to his decision-making abilities. "I'd like to think he appointed me because he thought I'd do a pretty good job," he said.

Friedman, 67, also is a very successful lawyer. He wrote a definitive reference book on corporate law and teaches at the University of San Diego Law School.

He was president of the state Board of Education, once chaired the California Securities Regulatory Reform Commission and served on President Clinton's small business panel.

One of the panel's recommendations, which was accepted by the Environmental Protection Agency, was to issue less harsh penalties against businesses that committed non-flagrant environmental violations, he said.

"I love when the air is crisp and clean and you can see forever," he said in an interview. "Not just for me, but more importantly for my kids and grandkids."

Michael Bustamante, the governor's spokesman, said Friedman "has a unique understanding of the business side."

"It doesn't mean he's going to prevail all the time, but it's important in order to develop and implement effective policy to have all points of view represented," Bustamante said.

The Coalition for Clean Air had recommended others with "strong" environmental credentials for the slot, but Davis never responded, said executive director Tim Carmichael.

Still, he's cautiously optimistic about Friedman, who will earn $31,142 for his work on the board.

"There are really no qualifications required other than good judgment," Carmichael said. "I think the governor must have faith in this person's judgment."

Copyright © The Sacramento Bee

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