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Observer-Dispatch (Utica, NY)
Feb 16, 2004 - 01:00 AM

by EDITORIAL

High-rolling politicians leave public out of loop

There is no shame among fat-cat politicians and their high-rolling pals who continue to wallow through La-La Land with an arrogance that is downright disgraceful.

The latest public travesty is a political shindig planned next week at the Manhattan home of Robert Wood Johnson IV, owner of the New York Jets football team. The Feb. 24 gathering is being hosted by Gov. George Pataki.

But don't pack your bags just yet because you're not likely to be on the guest list. Price of admission is $50,000.

It gets better - or, worse, as it is. The money raised will be handed over to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's California Recovery Team, a lobbying organization set up by Schwarzenegger to persuade Californians to approve a $15-billion bond proposal - part of Schwarzenegger's economic recovery plan for his state.

According to The Los Angeles Times, the committee is considered a ballot-measure account under California campaign law, which allows Schwarzenegger to avoid the state's limits on donations to individual candidates. And that it does. A $500,000 gift will buy the donor a listing as a chairman of the recovery team. There's a deal.

Rachel Leon, head of the New York chapter of Common Cause, said the whole thing "makes a mockery of our campaign finance laws." That goes without saying. Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group said that in his 25 years of tracking political fund-raising, he couldn't recall any such event in this state where the minimum ticket price was $50,000, let alone one where $500,000 donations were requested.

Where is the conscience? During California's gubernatorial recall vote last year, Schwarzenegger vowed that he wouldn't rely on special-interest donors. A Feb. 4 report in the Sacramento Bee quoted Schwarzenegger advisers as saying none of those attending the Manhattan shindig would have a stake in the bond measure.

But Jamie Court, president of the Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, is probably closer to the truth.

"The only interest banks and others on Wall Street have in giving money to Arnold Schwarzenegger is to make more money by floating more bonds or to get a chit for when they have some business before the state," Court told the Bee.

Pataki should be ashamed for wading into this mess. But it's clear that he has things other than financially strapped New Yorkers on his mind. Too bad.

Government watchdog groups are right when they charge that such a thing is sheer blasphemy when it comes to campaign financing. But what's really a shame is that such pompous behavior only reinforces what we already know: The people running this country haven't a clue about real people struggling to survive. And as long as invitations come with the price of a luxury sedan, it's a pretty good guess who won't be coming to dinner.




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