What's the Harman a Big Checchi Account?

Conflict of interest and the Democrats' wealthy wannabe governors

Under the California Constitution, legal experts say the only way a governor can avoid performing a required official duty is to leave the state, allowing the lieutenant governor to assume the acting governorship. Both campaigns promise that their candidates' conflict problems will be ironed out. But neither feels turning the keys of government over to the lieutenant governor every time a conflict pops up is a reasonable solution.

Harman's camp says it will release a conflict-reduction plan before the primary.

Sragow asserts that a governor can act on legislation, even if it will have a significant impact on his financial fortunes. The key to dealing with such situations, he says, is openness. A governor Checchi, Sragow says, would simply "acknowledge the conflict, and make a decision after having acknowledged the conflict."

Checchi's representatives stress that they have to win the primary and general election before the potential for conflict becomes an issue. Actually, the conflict question might already be an issue, if California's major newspapers (the Sacramento Bee excepted) had not largely ignored the point.

"It's curious to me that the press has let this drop," says Susan Rasky, a journalism professor at UC Berkeley and former SF Weekly columnist who writes frequently about state politics. "Why should the campaigns address it, when they don't have to?"

Another issue the candidates apparently don't want to address is the easiest method of avoiding a conflict of interest: selling investments that might cause conflict, and placing the proceeds in nice, conflict-free government bonds.

"You don't just sell 10 percent of Northwest Airlines by waking up one day and deciding you want to do it," harrumphs Sragow.

To which Common Cause's Knox harrumphs right back: "Why not? Didn't he wake up one day and decide he wanted to be governor of California?

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