Former elections monitor gave Oracle donation to Gov. Davis Oracle lobbyist had state ties

By Steve Lawrence The Associated Press
Tuesday May 14, 2002


SACRAMENTO — The lobbyist who passed a $25,000 check to a Davis administration aide just days after his client negotiated a state contract also represents a company that funneled $40,000 to Gov. Gray Davis’ re-election campaign last month while lobbying a state agency. 

Network Management Group is represented by Ravi Mehta, the former top state elections cop who worked for Oracle Corp. last year when it signed a $95 million, no-bid contract to provide the state with database software. 

Network Management supplies proposition players, a sort of substitute dealer, for card rooms, and the state Gambling Control Commission, appointed by Davis, is in the midst of drafting rules to regulate and license those players. 

The Monterey Park-based company has been lobbying the commission on those regulations, which Peter Melnicoe, the commission’s chief attorney, describes as “controversial in some respects.” 

Neither Mehta nor Network Management’s chief executive officer, John Park, returned telephone calls on Friday and Monday from an Associated Press reporter seeking comment. 

According to state campaign finance records, Network Management Group gave Davis’ campaign $15,000 on April 5 and $25,000 on April 8. 

A spokesman for Davis, Roger Salazar, said the money won’t have any impact on the commission’s decisions. 

“We don’t connect contributions to policy, he said. “Never have, never will.” 

Mehta, a former chairman of the state Fair Political Practices Commission, passed the Oracle campaign contribution to a Davis aide over drinks at a Sacramento bar a few days after the state signed the software deal. 

The contract was initially touted as a way for the state to save at least $16 million through volume purchases of database software. But the state auditor says the deal could actually cost the state up to $41 million more than if it had kept its previous software supply arrangements. 

Both Davis and Oracle deny any link between the donation and the contract. Oracle officials say the timing was coincidental. 

But timing campaign donations to try to increase their impact is “inherent in the process” at the Capitol, said Jim Knox, executive director of California Common Cause, a campaign reform group. 

“It works both ways,” he said. “The donors tend to make contributions when it’s going to maximize their influence, and legislators (and sometimes statewide officials) tend to leverage contributions at the time ... when lobbyists are most vulnerable.” 

Mehta was once at the other end of the process, overseeing campaign disclosure and ethics requirements as head of the FPPC. His stint as chairman from 1995 to 1997 was a stormy one. 

“I think there was near unanimity among the commissioners that he was not a credit to the institution,” said former Commissioner Deborah Seiler. 

There were complaints that Mehta charged the state for a golfing trip and lobbied legislators on bills without consulting the rest of the commission. 

Mehta, an attorney, was also criticized for doing legal affairs work for Bob White, then-Gov. Pete Wilson’s chief of staff, while the FPPC was investigating a member of Wilson’s Cabinet. 

“The FPPC chair is a place where you should be pretty much beyond reproach,” said another former commissioner, Jim Rushford. “There were some of the things Ravi did that that didn’t seem consistent with that standard.” 

In 1996 the commission voted to strip Mehta of most of his powers as chairman. 

Mehta, who blamed his problems at the FPPC on his efforts to make the agency’s enforcement more aggressive, resigned from the commission in 1997, in the middle of his four-year term. 

He left after telling a group of lobbyists that parts of Proposition 208, a 1996 campaign donation limitation initiative, were unconstitutional. The FPPC was defending the proposition in court at the time. 

Mehta also had a stormy relationship with the city of Anaheim, which hired him in September 1997 as an independent prosecutor to investigate alleged campaign violations by the city’s mayor and others. 

He was fired by the Anaheim City Council in March 1998 after the bills for his investigation sparked a public outcry. Altogether, Mehta charged the city over $302,000, including more than $12,000 in court costs to fight his dismissal. 

Anaheim ended up paying $249,959, said John Nicoletti, a spokesman for the city. 

A judge threw out the misdemeanor charges filed by Mehta against the mayor and three other members or former members of the city council, calling the investigation a “colossal waste of taxpayer money and a blatant abuse of the judicial process for naked political gain.” 

Last year Mehta and a campaign committee were fined $23,000 by a Superior Court judge for violating campaign laws, including spending $7,000 to paint Mehta’s Porsche. 

Mehta was treasurer of the committee, which ran an independent campaign supporting Dan Lungren, Davis’ Republican opponent in 1998.