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Sacramento Bee
Feb 04, 2004 - 01:00 AM

by Margaret Talev, Bee Capitol Bureau

Big-ticket event for bond plan

Top asking price to join Schwarzenegger in N.Y. - $500,000
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will appear at a New York City fund-raiser this month asking political heavy hitters in the nation's banking and finance capital to donate as much as a whopping $500,000 each to his campaign to sell Californians on a $15 billion bond proposal.

The top ticket price - a cool half-million for donors who want to be listed as a chairman of Schwarzenegger's California Recovery Team campaign - may be the highest solicitation on record to aid a campaign in the Golden State. It immediately drew criticism from campaign finance watchdogs who recalled Schwarzenegger's insistence during last year's gubernatorial recall campaign that he would not rely on special-interest donors.

A minimum donation of $50,000 gets donors in the door at the Feb. 24 dinner, to be hosted by New York Gov. George Pataki at the home of New York Jets owner Robert Wood Johnson IV.

Organizers declined to identify who was invited to the event, other than to say it would be an intimate group. But Schwarzenegger advisers insisted that none of the attendees would have a stake in the bond measure that voters are being asked to approve in March.

"There are specific prohibitions from bond houses, people that engage in public finance, to contribute to an account controlled by a state office," said adviser Marty Wilson.

Citing federal laws meant to curb so-called "pay-to-play" practices in the industry, he added: "You're not going to see money from companies that are active participants in California's public finance markets."

At the same time, Todd Harris, a spokesman for the governor, said it was in the best interest of the finance community at large to get a debt financing plan and a companion balanced-budget measure on the March ballot.

"California is the sixth-largest economy in the world," Harris said. "Passage of Propositions 57 and 58 will be the first step toward putting California's fiscal house in order, and given the size of the economy, that is something that's good not only for every Californian but for anyone doing business in this country or any other, in particular people in New York who work in the finance industry."

Watchdogs reacted with a mix of suspicion and outrage, saying loopholes in "pay-to-play" law allow conflicts of interest.

"This is carpetbagging," said Jamie Court, president of the Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. "The only interest banks and others on Wall Street have in giving money to Arnold Schwarzenegger is to make money by floating more bonds or to get a chit for when they have some business before the state.

"Both scenarios are at odds with the Mr. Clean image that Arnold committed to with the voters."

Jim Knox, executive director of California Common Cause, said he's reserving judgment until he knows who will attend.

"Most donors at that level give for a reason, and the reason is usually to influence policy," Knox said. "I'm certainly curious about who's invited and why they'd want to pay that much."

Wilson, who is heading the governor's fund raising for the bond campaign, described invited guests as "what I would call traditional Republican supporters form the New York area." He said Pataki, not Schwarzenegger, handled the guest list and that the event was originally planned for last fall as a campaign fund-raiser but had to be rescheduled because it conflicted with the major televised debate in which Schwarzenegger participated.

By the time it was rescheduled, Wilson said, Schwarzenegger's fund-raising priority had become selling voters on the bond campaign.

Republican Party officials in New York confirmed that while Schwarzenegger is in Manhattan, he also is scheduled to appear at two local party fund-raisers.

The California Recovery Team fund-raiser at Johnson's home will come on the heels of a similar event scheduled in Sacramento on Friday. Sacramento Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof, both Democrats who have offered to help out the Republican governor and former film star, are hosting a small, $100,000-a-plate dinner on the night of a home game against the San Antonio Spurs. For $25,000 each, other donors can watch the game from the Maloofs' Arco Arena suite.

About the Writer
---------------------------
The Bee's Margaret Talev can be reached at (916) 326-5540 or mtalev@sacbee.com




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