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State Journal: California conflict

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A conflict-of-interest controversy apparently has cost State Treasurer Kathleen Brown of California the endorsement of the powerful California Teachers Association for the upcoming Democratic gubernatorial primary, and spurred the union to investigate the actions of its political director.

The storm broke in mid-March, as the C.T.A.'s endorsement convention gathered to begin deliberations. John Garamendi, Ms. Brown's rival for the Democratic nomination to face Gov. Pete Wilson, circulated documents indicating that the Brown campaign had given $175,000 to the Committee to Protect the Political Rights of Minorities.

The organization is run by Alice Huffman, one of the union's most powerful black officials and a close ally of Speaker of the Assembly Willie L. Brown Jr.

A spokesman for Ms. Brown said the money was intended to fund efforts to enlist support from African-American voters. But Mr. Garamendi implied that it amounted to an attempt to buy the C.T.A. endorsement by aiding its chief lobbyist.

Indeed, much of the money was to be funneled to her public-affairs consulting firm for outreach work, as happened with some of the funds the committee received to fight last year's voucher initiative.

After investigating whether Ms. Huffman had violated union conflict-of-interest rules, the union's board of directors issued a statement saying, "There is nothing to support a charge that Alice Huffman or any C.T.A. staff person acted inappropriately.''

However, Ms. Huffman agreed to cut her ties with the consulting firm, A.C. Public Affairs Inc.

The legislature's black caucus reportedly intervened on her behalf, and some critics charged that union officials wanted to fire her but feared the political and legal repercussions.

An editorial in The Sacramento Bee charged that the decision was based on fear of "a big-bucks lawsuit and from knowledge that C.T.A. has been compromised for years by Huffman's outside political activities.''

Meanwhile, the furor apparently persuaded delegates to the union's endorsement convention to deny backing to Ms. Brown, who had expected it. She received a majority of votes, but not the 60 percent the union's rules require for an endorsement.

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