Slush Daddy

Although former California Sen. John Burton has filed papers to run for state schools superintendent in 2010, politicians here and in Sacramento probably hope he isn't serious.

That's because the crusty San Francisco Democrat and longtime power broker has become exceedingly generous with his political friends, giving away tens of thousands of dollars from the fund he set up ostensibly to finance a bid for the school chief's post.

After 35 years in the Legislature and in Congress, Burton was termed out of the state Senate in 2004. He promptly deposited $622,000 from leftover Senate campaign funds into a new Burton for Superintendent of Public Instruction war chest.

Although he denied at the time that the fund was merely a way to preserve his surplus campaign cash, Burton — who maintains a law practice downtown and who will be 78 in 2010 — appears more interested in playing star donor to Democratic candidates and causes than in using the stash for another political run. (He declined to comment for this article.)

Records show that, as of the end of October, Burton has given away nearly $180,000 from the fund, mostly to political friends and allies. Recipients of his largess include: soon-to-be Secretary of State Debra Bowen and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides ($6,600 apiece), S.F. Supervisor and soon-to-be Assemblywoman Fiona Ma ($3,400), and Oakland Mayor and soon-to-be state Attorney General Jerry Brown ($2,500).

As for the $422,000 left in the kitty, national politicians take notice: Burton gave New Mexico Gov. (and likely '08 presidential hopeful) Bill Richardson $10,000, and routed $2,100 to Maryland's John Sarbanes (the son of U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes) for his successful House race.

Among political allies, however, the biggest single gift was $15,000 to Burton's protege, former Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, who, after resigning last year under a cloud of official mismanagement, doesn't figure to run for anything. The dough went to Shelley's legal defense fund.

 
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