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The Guardian UK
Feb 21, 2004 - 01:00 AM

by Dan Glaister in Los Angeles

Schwarzenegger breaks fundraising record at up to $500,000 for dinner seat

During his movie career, Arnold Schwarzenegger could demand the highest fees in Hollywood. And he's lost none of his knack for raising money now that he's a politician.

Next week the California governor heads to New York for a dinner that is being billed as the biggest fundraiser in the history of politics. Guests have been invited to donate between $50,000 and $500,000 for a seat at the meal. Even President George Bush cannot command such sums.

Mr Schwarzenegger has smashed all known records for political fundraising, netting an estimated $5.2m since the beginning of the year.

The Terminator star, who celebrates his 100th day in office next week, is on the stump to raise money for advertising campaigns aimed at persuading Californians to back measures designed to stabilise the state's perilous finances.

But the New York dinner, at the Manhattan home of Robert Wood Johnson IV, and arranged by New York governor George Pataki, has left some with a sour taste in their mouths.

Even Mr Schwarzenegger's spokesman, Rob Stutzman, admitted that the $500,000 price might have been a mistake."The paté better be pretty good for $500,000," Mr Stutzman said.

"The largest box [to tick on the invitation] was $500,000. That was probably unfortunate. As far as I know, no one's checked that box and is buying the $500,000 ticket."

Some pressure groups have attacked Mr Schwarzenegger for soliciting money from Mr Johnson, heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical empire, at a time when pharmaceutical companies owe the state $1.3bn in unpaid rebates in a deal to provide low-cost drugs.

Critics question the actor's judgment in travelling to New York to solicit money to solve California's budget crisis, and ask just how committed he is to curbing the influence of business in politics.

When Mr Schwarzenegger announced his candidacy for the governorship last year, he declared that reducing the role of special interests would be one of his priorities. He would, he pledged, "make decisions that are the wisest decisions for the people and not what is best for the special interests".

The success of the Schwarzenegger governor ship could rest on whether Californians vote for two budget cutting measures next month. Should he lose, his fledgling administration will have flunked its first big test.

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