Whiff of Old Scandal Won't Hurt Gov. Davis, Observers Say

By Chris Rizo | July 7, 2008 | 8:29 PM EDT

Sacramento (CNSNews.com) - A federal judge released long-sealed documents this week that implicate California Gov. Gray Davis in a decade-old political bribery scanda. But pundits say the revelation probably won't change the way voters see Davis, or his Republican challenger Bill Simon.

On Monday, eight days before California voters go to the polls, U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence K. Karlton released letters in which a disgraced former California official (Coastal Commissioner Mark L. Nathanson) alleges that then-state Controller Gray Davis asked him to confer favorable treatment on Davis's supporters who were seeking to build
along California's oceanfront so Davis would be in a better position to get campaign contributions from them.

Paul Ryan, a project director at the nonpartisan Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies, said Nathanson's allegations will do little to change voters' perceptions of Davis.

"The story here is not a whole lot different than the one that has been told for years about Davis being a full-time fundraiser and a pay-to-play politician," Ryan said on Wednesday. "Voters, unfortunately, are not disturbed by politicians who solicit campaign
contributions and later change their views or voting positions as a result."

Allan Hoffenblum, a long-time Republican strategist, agreed.

"Bill Simon's problem this coming Tuesday is not to reveal more negative information on Gray Davis -- that part of the job has been done," he said. "Simon's problem is to convince people that he's a viable alternative.

"Attacking Davis isn't going to get Simon votes," he continued. "Proving that he is a better candidate is what's going to get him votes."

Nathanson, who is currently serving a 45-month sentence in federal prison for extorting $734,000 from coastal developers, among other things, offered the letters in 1993 and 1994 through his attorney as part of a failed attempt for leniency.

At the time, the U.S. attorney in Sacramento refused to investigate Nathanson's claims because of his lack of credibility, and Judge Karlton put the documents under wraps, saying they "contain no newsworthy information," and that there was "absolutely no reason to believe the accusations."

But then the Sacramento Bee sued to have the court records released.

The newspaper won its two-year legal battle for un-redacted copies of the letters on Oct. 7, when U.S. Supreme Court rejected final pleas by an anonymous petitioner who wanted the documents to remain sealed.

While Nathanson's claims are unsubstantiated, the release was welcome news for Simon, who has hammered the governor for his aggressive fundraising practices.

But aside from saying that the nine-year-old papers contain "serious allegations," Simon has barely mentioned the Nathanson letters on his own, instead waiting for reporters to bring up the issue.

"These are very serious allegations and, yes, of course, we need to consider the source," Simon said at a recent news conference. "But one should also consider the well-documented records of Davis' pay-to-play politics," he said.

Gabriel Sanchez, a campaign spokesman for Davis, affirms what the governor and his supporters have said all along - that Nathanson's charges are baseless, levied by a convicted felon and admitted perjurer in an attempt to get a lighter sentence.

"It's just not us who say that the claims are false," Sanchez said. "The FBI reviewed the claims and thought that (Nathanson) was a liar, and so did the U.S. attorney.

"So we think we are in pretty good company, saying that these are baseless accusations."