California Public Employees' Retirement System officials have become super-vigilant about accepting donations or gifts from their service providers. The vigilance partly springs from reaction to newspaper stories about their being wined and dined by the fund's money managers.
Providers now fill out more detailed questionnaires about donations in seeking contracts. But Fred Buenrostro, deputy California state controller, who frequently sits in for California State Controller Kathleen Connell as a member of the CalPERS board, continues to take the process a step further. Before contracts are awarded, Mr. Buenrostro asks providers if they have given cash donations or gifts to the governor, candidates for governor or state legislative leaders.
Questioning the relevance of Mr. Buenrostro's questions, Charles Valdes, chairman of CalPERS investment committee, asked sarcastically at the fund's May meeting why Mr. Buenrostro didn't ask if donations or gifts had been given or solicited to any member of the entire state legislature.
Mr. Buenrostro insisted his questions were pertinent. Later, under Mr. Buenrostro's questioning, Roz Hewsenian, a consultant for Wilshire Associates, Santa Monica, Calif., said her boss Dennis Tito, Wilshire president, donated $1,000 last October to Dan Lungren, Republican candidate for California governor.
Wilshire, the fund's general consultant, was about to be given a contract for hybrid investment consulting.
Mr. Valdes then pointedly asked whether Wilshire had received any solicitations for gifts or donations from anyone connected with CalPERS. To everyone's surprise, Ms. Hewsenian, answered yes.
She said Ms. Connell, Mr. Buenrostro's boss, solicited Mr. Tito in a telephone call for a campaign contribution.