Friday, February 26, 2010




The closer it gets, the worse California’s pending sale of state buildings looks, at least for the long-term interests of taxpayers.

Here are the basics of the sale, which aims to produce a modicum of cash to help resolve a budget crisis that seems to grow worse every year:

State officials planned to go into the real estate marketplace in late February with as many as 17 state buildings that are expected to fetch about $2 billion even in today’s depressed climate for sales of commercial buildings. Bids will probably begin arriving in early April.

One reason these buildings will likely draw strong interest is that the state will guarantee continued occupancy for at least 20 years and in some cases as much as 30 years. Not many commercial buildings come with that kind of guaranteed rental income.

Receipts from the sale will be used to pay off about $1.35 billion in bonds issued to finance construction of the buildings. Another $665 million would go toward commissions for the real estate broker managing the deal and to the state’s general fund, where it would be applied toward this year’s expected deficit of about $20 billion.

The commission will likely come to about $16 million for the firm of Coldwell Banker Richard Ellis. CBRE executives have contributed just over $79,000 to various campaign committees controlled by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a strong advocate of the sale. If the buildings bring the expected amount and the commission is $16 million, or 0.8 percent of the purchase price as spelled out in the CBRE’s bid for the listings, the state budget would benefit by almost exactly $600 million this year, a drop in the deficit bucket.

Meanwhile, future rents California government would be forced to pay would come to at least $5 billion and might reach $6 billion. Yes, retiring the construction bonds would save the state around $120 million in yearly payments. But many of the bonds have less than 10 years to run, so the prospective benefits of paying them off early don’t even approach the costs of future rent payments.

Doug Button, the state Division of Real Estate official supervising the sale, contends savings in ongoing repair and maintenance expenses would also benefit the state. Much of those savings would come from eliminating between 600 and 1,000 state employees who now help operate the buildings. No one knows if those workers would be hired by new owners or draw unemployment and welfare payments, thus reducing any financial benefits of firing them.

Put all the putative savings together and they don’t even approach the rent the state would be committed to pay.

That’s why Bill Leonard, a former Republican state legislator now serving on the tax-collecting state Board of Equalization, says the deal would simply engender “another form of state debt, leaseback contracts instead of bonds.”

Then there’s the question of which buildings are being sold. Rather than try to sell off vacant state properties like a former CalTrans building near San Diego’s Maritime Museum, this sale will offer the Ronald Reagan state office building in downtown Los Angeles, a pink granite tower whose construction bonds were paid off last December. Choice buildings in the San Francisco Civic Center are also on the block.

So instead of the state enjoying free rent in prime locations for many years to come, it will be making rent payments for decades if this sale proceeds.

Then there’s the matter of patrimony. California voters approved the bonds that built all the properties involved in the putative sale. But those same voters have been given no voice in the decision to sell off the buildings they paid for. Does this make sense? How is it different than if the state were to auction off state parks, also bought with voter-approved funds?

But rest easy, say Button and other officials running the sale. “We will only sell if it makes economic sense, and we won’t know about that until the bids come in,” Button said. “We won’t obligate the state unless it makes economic sense.”

But what will seem economically sensible to the bureaucrats and politicians trying to convince Californians that reduced maintenance expenses will somehow make up for paying 20 to 30 years of rent at levels yet to be determined?

It all adds up to a highly questionable deal that offers many years of costs in exchange for a one-time payment that won’t even come close to solving the deficit.

Which is why the closer this deal gets, the worse it looks.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit





Listen to Steve Poizner talk about his underdog run for the Republican nomination for governor, and it’s almost as if he’s channeling John Paul Jones, the naval hero of the Revolutionary War.

Poizner’s campaign, now mired more than 30 points behind former eBay chief Meg Whitman in every poll, is listing and might be taking on water, just as Jones’ frigate, the USS Bon Homme Richard, did during its sea battle against the British warship Serapis in the summer of 1779.

Like the captain of Serapis, Whitman’s chief consultant Mike Murphy feels his opponent might as well admit defeat. He offered in a now-infamous email to “clear the field” for Poizner in the 2012 Senate race if Poizner would surrender to Whitman. And former Gov. Pete Wilson, Whitman’s campaign chair, a few days later allowed that the general election campaign has begun, implying the primary election is over three months before the vote.

Poizner’s response to Whitman’s call for him to drop out amounts to precisely the same defiant thing Jones told the British captain: “I have not yet begun to fight.”

“I know a lot of people want the battle to start,” said Poizner, who is sitting on an $18.5 million war chest made up primarily of his own cash. The current state insurance commissioner, Poizner made a fortune estimated at as much as $1 billion by founding and later selling two Silicon Valley high tech companies.

“Meg clearly doesn’t want to be in a Republican primary,” Poizner said in an interview. Offered an opportunity to speak about her own campaign during an encounter after one of her recent stump speeches, Whitman declined and scurried away. Poizner, by contrast, was eager to talk.

“She wants to be in a general election because in a primary, she will have to answer for the money she gave to (Democratic Sen.) Barbara Boxer and to extremist environmental organizations,” Poizner said. He noted that Whitman, who has called for suspension of court orders limiting pumping of water from the Delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers in order to save endangered minnow-like delta smelt, contributed $300,000 to the Environmental Defense Fund, which aggressively sought those court orders. Farmers and cities in the San Francisco Bay area and south of the Delta cite the orders as a cause of unemployment and “man-made” drought.

“Essentially, she helped an organization that helped cut off water to cities and agriculture,” Poizner said.

He has yet to point out any of this to the great mass of Republican voters, but Poizner insists he will.

“I will run a very aggressive campaign,” he insisted, acknowledging that fellow billionaire Whitman, who has so far invested 39 million of her own dollars in her effort, has outspent him dramatically and bought herself that big poll lead via a months-long onslaught of radio and TV commercials.

“Just because she spends a fortune does not mean she has spent it wisely,” Poizner asserted. “Her ads are so vague that people know almost nothing about her. We will start our own ads at the right time, when people are ready to pay attention. Our polling shows that 50 percent of Republican voters are not even close to having an opinion yet. By the time this campaign is over, they will know who is the real conservative. They will also know she has consistently refused to debate me and that she would like to run her campaign from her living room. The fact is that people who might be supporting her now are responding only to her commercials, and that’s a very shallow base.”

Poizner admits his campaigning as a self-described “true conservative” represents some change from when he ran unsuccessfully in 2004 for the state Assembly from a liberal-leaning district on the San Francisco Peninsula. But he insists he’s completely consistent on many key issues.

“I was pro-choice (on abortion) then and I’m pro-choice now,” he said. “I was against gay marriage then, too, but for domestic partners. But as I’ve worked in Sacramento, I’ve become more passionately against tax increases and for cutting government spending. I’ve seen state government in action and that has shaped my thinking.”

Poizner insists he will beat Whitman in June because “There will be a small turnout and conservative Republicans will vote for a conservative with a track record. That’s me.”

But if he does win, will his campaign suffer the same fate as Jones’ ship, the Bon Homme Richard, which sank not long after Serapis surrendered? Will Poizner be easy pickings for Democrat Jerry Brown?

No, he insists. “About 90 percent of the voters think we are on the wrong track in California and being a career politician will make it difficult for him to win against someone who has a strong record and can solve problems.”

Stay tuned.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

Monday, February 22, 2010




At long last, there are signs Californians might become a little inventive in the face of financial crisis.

The best example so far of an idea for making lemonade when life has dispensed lemons comes in the higher education field, where state colleges and universities have absorbed large budget cuts, begun charging higher tuition and fees than ever – and will still turn away about 100,000 qualified students next fall.

That situation amounts to a wholesale abandonment of California’s 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education, which guarantees a place at either the University of California or a California State University campus for every student who has done enough to qualify.

With some campuses reserving significant numbers of spaces for local residents and others turning away even those students, public universities for the first time are plainly not keeping their 50-year-old promise.

Enter the state’s community colleges. This 110-school system charges far lower tuition and fees than the four-year schools, offers basic classes that are good enough so that UC and CSU schools let transfer students enjoy full credit for them and features a host of faculty members at least as qualified as many at the more prestigious campuses.

But community colleges award only associate of arts or science degrees, which can be obtained in as little as two years. Among public campuses, only the universities now can give bachelor’s degrees and more.

But things ought to change, now that they’ve begun to refuse admission to many thousands of students who deserve it, based on their high school performance and test scores. That’s mostly because of lean times, which see increased class sizes and decreased course offerings at every level of education.

It’s a lemon of a situation if ever there was one.

Which has led some inventive, if obscure, lawmakers to take a hard look at community colleges and wonder if they can’t fill some of the gap created by the hard times.

For students who can’t afford the 32 percent increase in Cal State tuition and fees scheduled for next fall, the current $26 per unit community college tab looks pretty good. Especially when the two-year campuses are often far closer to home than their big brothers. And when the portion of community college students transferring to the larger schools is gradually falling, now standing at only about 40 percent.

The idea of letting California community colleges do more than they ever have was first voiced late last year by Democratic Assemblyman Marty Block, a former dean at San Diego State University and ex-president of the San Diego Community College District board.

“We have a lot of well-respected community colleges in San Diego,” Block told a hearing on the master plan. He noted that SDSU has closed fall admissions even to local applicants. “(The community colleges) think they could do a fine job offering those next two years to students, at least in certain disciplines. I think moving in that direction is a good plan.

And why not, when four-year schools often employ part-time “adjunct” faculty who sometimes possess fewer academic credentials than many community college teachers?

A similar idea arose last year in a failed bill by another Democratic assemblyman, Jerry Hill of San Mateo, who sought to allow a bachelor’s degree program in the San Mateo Community College District.

This sort of plan is already in effect in Florida, another state where fiscal crisis has crimped four-year campuses, leaving that state short on college-educated residents to fill future job openings. The non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California reports that this state faces a similar shortage, to be worsened if four-year college enrollment problems persist.

But pushing such a major change won’t be easy, even if it does seem like an obvious solution to a problem that’s starting off big and promises to get bigger.

Turf battles are inevitable, with faculty members at the more prestigious four-year schools not wanting to see their status spread around. There’s the question of whether community colleges could offer small seminars and advanced laboratory facilities without increasing their tuition and fees. And there’s space: The community colleges are already overflowing, with nearly 3 million students.

Solutions for these kinds of issues seem far easier to find than for California’s overall budget problems. If four-year schools can’t educate all the qualified prospects, it will become obvious that someone else must do it. The issue of higher expenses for higher-level students can be resolved with fee hikes that would still leave community college classes priced well below the big universities. And space issues are more easily resolved at the community college level than statewide, as local voters are usually willing to approve construction funds for schools in their own areas.

So this change is doable, and probably in pretty short order. And it’s something that needs to happen soon – or California risks depriving many thousands of its best and brightest young people of opportunities long promised to them.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




Openness in government is almost always a good thing. That’s why there are few more popular laws in California than the 1950s-era Ralph M. Brown Act, which requires almost all meetings of city councils, public district boards, county supervisors and the Legislature to be open to the public, even when they are only casual get-togethers of a few members.

A strong argument can even be made for opening up sessions where boards and city councils discuss legal or personnel matters, meetings that are now closed in virtually every corner of the state. After all, these meetings can involve spending taxpayer dollars as much as any public session about a zoning ordinance or a legislative bill.

But nothing in the Brown Act ever suggested eliminating the secret ballot. Even in a time when huge numbers of voters cast absentee ballots, great pains are taken to keep each voter’s preferences private.

Into this arena last fall came the opponents of the 2008 Proposition 8, which ended the brief practice of allowing same-sex marriage in California.
It wasn’t enough for many gay-rights advocates to have access to lists of every donor of $100 or more to the Proposition 8 campaign – posted on the Web site of the secretary of state’s office. They demanded lists of everyone who signed the petitions that qualified the measure for the ballot.

So far, they have not gotten those names, and it’s probably a good thing.

For signing an initiative petition is not like contributing money toward passage of the same measure. It’s a far more casual act, often done in the rush of a shopping expedition where citizens are likely to be confronted by paid petition circulators who all but demand signatures. These folks often carry multiple petitions, and a voter might not have any idea what he or she has just signed.

The companies hired by initiative advocates to get the petition signatures needed to put a measure on the ballot know this. So, very likely, did the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court when they refused last fall to require Washington state authorities to open lists of petition signers.

The argument is sometimes made that if lists of registered voters are public records, so too should be the names of petition signers. But those are very different matters and comparing them is like comparing apples and bananas. Even if a voter is a registered member of a particular political party, no one can be sure how he or she voted. So there can’t be retaliation targeted at voters just because they’re registered.

Not so for petition signers. Once those lists are made public, the signers would be on record forever as favoring a particular cause. People who donate significantly to political candidates and ballot measures know their names will be made public; petition signers do not.

And make no mistake, there can be significant consequences when activists know which side of an issue a person has taken. When gay marriage advocates learned last year that the director of the Los Angeles Film Festival had contributed $1,500 – a relatively small sum in politics – toward passage of Proposition 8, he was forced to resign. A boycott followed release of the information that the manager of one restaurant had contributed $100 to the same cause.

It can be fairly argued that those two and other donors were fair game, because they knew – or should have known – there would be a public record of their donations.

But there is no such notice when signing a petition. If there were, chances are petition circulators would have a much harder time getting signatures.

Advocates of making petition signer names and addresses public deny any intent to intimidate anyone. But who knows how such information might be used? The potential for misuse is at least as great as with names of campaign donors.

“Citizens approach petitions more thoughtfully once they realize they are signing public documents,” says the co-head of, the national anti-gay marriage group seeking to make petition signatures public.

His statement may be true, but it also implies the possibility of intimidation, suggesting that signatures might not be so forthcoming if voters knew they might be fired or picketed just for scrawling their names.

Plainly, this could lead to fewer ballot propositions going before the voters, something a lot of so-called good-government groups and academics already say they want.

But it would limit both the ideas voters are allowed to consider and the freedom they now feel to back causes they like. Those are both bad possibilities, which makes keeping petition signatures private once they’re submitted almost as important as ensuring the privacy of actual ballots.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

Saturday, February 13, 2010



Whether or not Congress eventually approves the greenhouse-gas reduction agreements reached late last year in Copenhagen, California will soon have a cap-and-trade system in place.

Unless voters here put a ballot initiative to the contrary on the November ballot and then pass it. Sponsors of this putative proposition call it the “California Jobs Initiative,” contending jobs will be lost in efforts to fight global warming by demanding lower industrial emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane.

“With unemployment at 12.5 percent and another looming budget deficit, this is not the time for California to attempt an overhaul of the entire economy at a cost of tens of billions of dollars,” writes Republican Assemblyman Dan Logue of Linda, in Yuba County, one of the initiative’s backers.

The presumption here and among many other opponents of doing much about climate change is simple: Fixing the environment will cost business billions of dollars and eliminate many thousands of jobs.

But they never back that bromide with facts. That’s because it is based on little more than reflexive, knee-jerk guesswork. Still, their campaign is effective. It even has led major polling organizations like Gallup and Harris to run surveys where a slight majority of respondents now favors economic growth over fixing the environment.

It turns out that’s a false choice. For doing something about greenhouse gas emissions doesn’t necessarily mean business will be hurt or jobs lost.

That’s the conclusion of a major report forecasting that cap-and-trade rules like those the “Jobs Initiative” seeks to cancel actually will cost most businesses pennies, if anything. Meanwhile, another study of the existing carbon market in Europe, the first large industrial region to make serious efforts at cutting greenhouse gases, demonstrates that cap-and-trade proved profitable to most businesses and gave them no reason to cut jobs.

Cap-and-trade is a system where companies are assigned limits for permissible emissions. These “caps” drop each year until environmental goals are reached. Companies that emit less than their quota can trade or sell the difference between actual gases they produce and what they’re permitted to others which emit too much. So outfits that do the most to cut the gases they produce stand to make profits. How much depends on the going price of emission credits.

The way this has actually worked runs completely counter to popular presumptions pushed by conservative politicians like Logue; initiative co-author Tom McClintock, the Republican congressman from Placer County, and many vocal talk-show hosts.

So pervasive is the belief that cutting greenhouse gases costs jobs that two current leading Republican candidates for governor and the U.S. Senate, Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, both base their campaigns in significant part on a belief that popular support for environmental measures is waning because of high unemployment.

The polls suggest some movement that way. That's because the false environmentalism-kills-jobs line has been pushed so loudly and so often.

The fact is that cap-and-trade has not killed jobs or companies in Europe, where a UC Berkeley Energy Institute study shows that when carbon trading began there in 2005, stock prices rose for companies that produced the most emissions the previous year and therefore got the highest emission quotas. This happened because those firms had to do least to cut their pollution and thus had an easy time acquiring emission credits they could trade or sell.

“Rather than being hurt by imposition of…regulation,” the Berkeley study concluded, “(many) industrial sectors benefited.” Which means that big businesses can make large profits by cleaning up their operations, and the cleaner they become, the more they can make – so long as other companies opt to stay dirty.

At almost the same time, the Union of Concerned Scientists funded a study of its own showing that small business will suffer few impacts from AB32, the landmark 2006 law mandating greenhouse gas cuts in California.

“Most small businesses will not be regulated under AB32 (the law behind the planned cap-and-trade system here),” that report concluded. One of its case studies checked potential effects on the Border Grill, a Los Angeles-area restaurant chosen because eateries are more energy intensive than the average small business, while also creating more jobs than most types of small business.

The analysis found that a cap-and-trade system covering the electricity, natural gas and transportation companies used by the Border Grill would create pass-through costs of less than three cents for every $20 meal served.

Concluded the study, “The likely effects of AB32 will be minor for small businesses.”

All of which means the adamant and vocal opponents of doing anything about global warming have been master propagandists, causing much of the public to believe in a mostly fictitious conflict pitting business and jobs against efforts to fight climate change.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit


Meg Whitman’s nonstop five-month barrage of radio ads has vaulted her into a huge poll lead in the Republican run for governor, with most surveys showing her ahead of rival Steve Poizner by about 30 percentage points. The same polls show she’s drawn almost even with Democrat Jerry Brown, the presumptive Democratic candidate to replace Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It’s a position once enjoyed by former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who held a similar lead over rival Bill Simon at just about the same time in 2002, when the primary election was contested much earlier than this year’s date of June 8. Riordan lost the nomination.

One reason: While he was well-known at the campaign’s start and Simon was not, Riordan had said some things about which most Republican voters were unaware, referring to parts of California outside Los Angeles as “strange places,” waffling on issues like abortion and gun control. When a series of TV commercials funded by then-Gov. Gray Davis revealed some of this, Riordan’s support quickly evaporated. It had been a mile wide and less than an inch deep, as the political cliché goes.

Very unlike Simon, Poizner has already invested almost 20 million of his own dollars in his run, has $18 million on hand and will not need help from any Democrat to publicize some Whitman remarks that Republican voters probably won’t care for. When he does that, the depth of the support Whitman’s radio ads have ginned up will be tested. But Poizner will have to go on the air soon to achieve much effect, as Whitman has now added TV commercials to her radio ads. If he dawdles, it will quickly become too late for him to accomplish much.

Here’s one Whitman comment, made last month on a cable TV show: “In many ways, the proposition process has worn out its usefulness. I mean, the referendum process, you know, dates back to 1918, I think. And it has its useful purpose, but there’s no question we have too many referendums on the ballot and too much spending has been, ah, you know, propositioned into process. So, I think you got to have a different approach, no question about it.”

In short, Whitman was telling Republicans “Vote for me, but not on much else that matters to you.”

Historical and etymological note to Meg: The initiative and referendum process in California dates from 1911, not 1918. And she meant initiatives, not referenda. A referendum here is an attempt to rescind a law passed by the Legislature before it takes effect. Referenda are rare: the most significant of modern times came in 1982, when voters reversed a legislative decision to build a Peripheral Canal bringing river water south around the Delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.

But never mind that Whitman displays poor knowledge of California history and nomenclature: she’s rarely voted and showed little interest in politics until very recently.

What counts is how that statement and others will affect Republican voters. Most of them revere Proposition 13, the landmark 1978 property tax cutting initiative. Conservatives also ran Propositions 209 and 227, which ended affirmative action in California government and stopped most bilingual education programs. So the conservatives who dominate Republican primaries like to decide major issues at the ballot box. What happens when they learn Whitman doesn’t want them doing that?

Then there’s her frequent promise to concentrate on just three tasks, and little else. These include education, jobs and cutting government spending. Those areas are it, she often says in her speeches, calling this “focus”; don’t expect much else from a Whitman administration.

What about water? What about energy production? To name just two other issues. U.S. senators sometimes get to pick and choose what they’ll focus on. But no California governor can evade key issues. As the second most powerful public official in America, any California governor eventually has to deal with everything.

Add in Poizner’s claim of threats by Whitman consultant Mike Murphy to “tear him up” if he didn’t drop out of the race. And Whitman’s frequent – but false – stump speech claim to have lived in California 30 years, repeated in her first television ad but edited out after newspapers pointed up the exaggeration. And her telling a Detroit newspaper in 1995 that Massachusetts was a better place than Southern California to rear her children.

All of which probably means Poizner is correct when he opines that “I don’t think the polls mean a lot” just yet. They will come to mean plenty, though, unless he goes on the air soon.

Just like Riordan, Whitman has said things most Republican voters don’t yet know about. If Poizner makes sure they find out, the race for the GOP nomination will sudden become much tighter than it now looks.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

Saturday, February 6, 2010




Big days came often during the fall and winter in Meg Whitman’s campaign to win this year’s Republican nomination for governor of California. Or at least, there have been days that seemed to mean a lot to the campaign, which spread press releases across the landscape like a paper rainstorm.

They were about endorsements. The biggest Whitman day came when she won the nod of U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the former Republican presidential candidate who’s never had much luck winning votes on this side of the state line. The endorsement of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was also big for Whitman; never mind that his endorsements of candidates like Bill Simon and Matt Fong didn’t help them much when they ran for governor and U.S. senator. Whitman also won over former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, another fellow who never pulled many votes outside his home town.

Not to be outdone, rival Steve Poizner, the current state insurance commissioner, announced backing by ex-Gov. George Deukmejian; Fong, the ex state treasurer, and onetime University of California Regent Ward Connerly, author of the Proposition 209 ban on affirmative action.

On the Democratic side, no endorsement was trumpeted more loudly than the one San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom got from ex-President Bill Clinton, announced at a community college in Los Angeles. Oddly enough, Newsom fell farther behind state Attorney General Jerry Brown in the next major poll. In the meantime, Brown hasn’t done much endorsement-seeking for himself, perhaps figuring he’s well enough known on his own.

So what about political endorsements? They have some usefulness in the early phases of a campaign, a sort of signal to candidates’ party mates that these are people to be taken seriously. Of course, in Whitman’s case, the almost $20 million she personally plopped into her war chest during the first half of last year was all the signal anyone needed about her ability to stay the course. She later put up another 20 very large ones.

But as for influencing the outcome of elections? Uh-uh. The man who learned that perhaps most bitterly was Paul Gann, co-author of the landmark property tax-cutting 1978 Jarvis-Gann Initiative known as Proposition 13. Just two years later, Gann figured he could parley his victory on that cause into a seat in the U.S. Senate. He had the enthusiastic endorsement of Ronald Reagan, the state’s most popular governor of the era, who also shared the 1980 ballot with him as a presidential candidate and carried California with 60 percent of the vote. But Gann took almost 20 percent less of the vote that year than Reagan, and Democrat Alan Cranston won reelection in a landslide that almost matched Reagan’s.

So personal endorsements don’t mean much. Especially ones from Giuliani, who probably didn’t score many points among Orange County Republicans when he wore a New York Yankees hat in the front row during the Yanks’ decisive Game Six victory over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the American League Championship Series last fall.

Of course, there are other kinds of endorsements, some of which can actually have measurable value. One example came the day Whitman sent out a three-page release listing almost 100 members of her new finance committee. This group presumably will try to contribute or raise enough cash to keep her from being considered a self-funded candidate in a state where billionaires have had little success buying offices. That will be a tough job since she’s said she’s willing to put up as much as $150 million to become governor. Why would donors give very much when they know how much Whitman has said she can spend from her own stash?

Whitman also put out a separate press release when Bob Naylor, a Sacramento lawyer/lobbyist and onetime Republican leader in the state Assembly, switched his endorsement to her from Poizner. That was of importance only to insiders.

Whitman and Poizner also purvey long lists of state and local officerholders. Poizner, for example, lists conservative state senators like Bob Dutton of Rancho Cucamonga, George Runner of Lancaster and Dennis Hollingsworth of Riverside and San Diego counties among others, perhaps in a bid to convince GOP voters he’s really a conservative.

The kind of endorsements that matter most in the end, though, come from labor unions, grass-roots voter groups and other organizations that can put volunteers in the field or help finance the slate cards that arrive by the armload in most homes at election time.

If those endorsements move a few voters, they are useful. But there is no evidence that celebrity or politician endorsements mean much of anything. Voters don’t usually pay much attention to who else is onstage at a rally besides the candidate. Unless it’s a rock band.

Which is why there’s no point paying attention to most endorsements. They’ll have little influence in California, just like always, no matter how much stock candidates might put in them.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




The bleating from the left has been loud and long over last month’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that will allow political advocacy advertising by corporations – even foreign-owned ones – right up until Election Day.

Meanwhile, the right rejoices over the decision rammed through by the court’s narrow conservative majority.

Both sides are likely mistaken, at least as far as this rule change figures to affect California.

Corporations and wealthy individuals have been spending almost as much as they want here for many years, with little to restrict them in anything besides races for federal offices like president, the U.S. Senate and Congress. Just as with laws covering federal elections, their donations to individual candidates are limited in state elections, but not their spending on either advocacy or issue-oriented politics.

To see how this works, there’s no need to look any farther than the initiatives that have already qualified for this year’s two statewide ballots or are in the process.

Mercury Insurance, for example, spent over $1 million to gather the signatures needed to qualify Proposition 17, a June initiative that would let it and other car insurance firms penalize anyone who has not previously had an insurance policy or has allowed one to lapse, even if a policy was suspended because someone moved out of state for something like college or military service.

In other states that allow such surcharges, the cost of a Mercury policy can almost double for those with no record of constant coverage. This won’t happen here, Mercury insists, while also asking voters to believe its claim that the change would result in discounts for drivers with continuous coverage.

Then there’s Pacific Gas &Electric Co., which has so far put more than $3 million into its bid to require a two-thirds vote in any city whose elected council wants to set up or expand a municipal electric utility of its own, on the June ballot as Proposition 16.

Both these measures are purely about money, not ideology. But the reality is still plain: companies are already spending plenty to move public policy in California their way. So how has the Supreme Court changed things in here?

Meanwhile, there’s another twist in the 5-4 Supreme Court decision holding that corporations have the same free-speech rights as individual persons: American subsidiaries of foreign-owned companies most likely will be able to kick in money, so long as it comes from revenues taken in from their American operations.

This opens the way to some very ironic possibilities. Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, for example, has for years been a leading villain in the conservative pantheon of foreign figures. But Chavez controls the Citgo gasoline and oil refining company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., that runs thousands of service stations in much of America.

Some California Republicans like the idea of corporations running supposedly “independent” ads blasting Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer right into November, but how will they like it if Chavez uses Citgo cash to buy ads plugging Boxer and other liberals?

How much would those same Republicans, who often deplore the way many American jobs have migrated overseas, like it if Chinese money backs politicians favoring an even more internationalized economy?

This points up one problem with getting overly excited about Supreme Court decisions when they first come down: Sometimes their effects are very different from what analysts first expect.

Then there’s the fact that California voters don’t always go for the candidate or cause with the most money. True, if one side has virtually no cash and the other spends $100 million or so – as happened with a failed 1998 initiative aiming to rescind a state electric deregulation plan that eventually led to the energy crunch of 2000 and 2001 – the big money will win.

But as long as a candidate or cause has enough cash to make itself heard at all, big money doesn’t guarantee victory. For evidence, see the history of fully or partially self-funded candidates like Michael Huffington, Norton Simon, William Matson Roth, William Simon and Al Checchi, none of got elected to anything despite vastly outspending the competition.

Or the fate of the 1990s-era initiative that used many millions of tobacco industry dollars in an unsuccessful attempt to roll back anti-smoking regulations.

The bottom line: Both the panic and the gloating that followed the Supreme Court’s corporate money decision are probably overreactions. This ruling will surely have some effects, but likely will not bring nearly as profound a change as many expect.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit