Monday, November 15, 2010

SF Chron Omits Political Analyst
O'Connor's Dem Donations

Almost one week back, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a story looking at the razor-thin difference in votes between Kamala Harris and Steve Cooley, the two top candidates vying for the state attorney general's office. Written by staff writer Marisa Lagos, the piece quoted one person more than any other, seven times, including the candidates' spokespersons, and that was Barbara O'Connor, pictured above.

She is a retired Cal State Sacramento professor very often quoted by Chronicle reporters, usually as a longtime political observer, which O'Connor certainly is, but that description does not give readers the full picture of her political activities.

This article, like all the other Chronicle stories quoting O'Connor, omitted her extensive donations to Democratic candidates and a club.

At the state level, a quick search of campaign records reveal the following contributions from O'Connor: $350 in 2002 to Jack O'Connell, $500 to Kevin Shelly from 2002 to 2005, $150 to Roger Dickinson in 2003, $250 to Darrell Steinberg in 2005, $100 to Carol Liu in 2007, $250 to Karen Bass in 2007, and $1,040 to the Harry S. Truman Club of Sacramento.

Her FEC files show that from 1991 to 1994 she donated $1,227 to the same Democratic club.

In addition to those contributions, she also endorsed Prop 25, a state initiative passed by voters last week, mandating a simple majority vote in the legislature to pass an on-time budget.

While that prop had nothing to do with what the Chronicle article was about, O'Connor was quoted in a Christian Science Monitor article about the initiative, and her endorsement of it was omitted. Of course, she says favorable things about its passage, and readers are left with the impression that she was impartial about the prop.

The issue for me is not that O'Connor exercises her rights and participates in political campaigns and scrums, and it takes a few key strokes and clicks to find her donations and endorsements, so there is a degree of transparency, but the problem I see is that reporters don't share that transparent info when quoting her.

I emailed Lagos at the Chronicle, asking why she didn't disclose the donations, and she didn't reply. However, O'Connor sent a few, and I've excerpted from her emails, errors included:

Btw. If you checked further you would see that I co chaired democrats for neillo in sd 1 special. I net give an interview with out where I have given to a candidte over 100.

[Regarding the CSM story] I told the reporter. I also signed the no argument on open primary the last time it was on. I was also a member of aft since 1084 because csu had mandated union membership. [...] You obviuosly have a bias on this and I am sure you have a political motive. Life is not black and white. [...] I do much more than comment on politics.

Look at the dates of these [donations] and the Truman club give to local races and is not a federal PAC. [...] I am actually in dc meeting with some of the new republicans. Do what you want but you are way off base. Am currently co chair of arnold's farewell dinner. I certainly believe in disclosure and have a 39 year history of telling my classes I am a dem and inviting repubs to counterbalance.

[In response to your comparing me with UC's Bruce Cain,] I am retired he is not. In the last 5 years all to hst a local PAC for local races except one to boxer 18 mos ago and one to Darrell Steinberg I think about 1/2 hears ago. [...]
My bio does proudly proclaim I worked for george McGovern. The press know all that and so do all of my students. I never comment if I am helping some one at all but you do what you need to do Bruce and I ate very different also jack Pitney and sherry bsbich jeffee or bill whallen. Look them up too.

Just because other pundits and seemingly impartial analysts also donate to pols and PACs does not excuse the lack of disclosure on both Bruce Cain and Barbara O'Connor's web sites.

My simple suggestions could be easily carried out, if the reporters and pundits agree to them. First, journalists must mention any quoted analysts donations. Second, the analysts should list their contributions in the past decade on their university-affiliated bio pages.

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