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May 19, 2004 - 01:00 AM
by MICHAEL R. BLOOD, Associated Press Writer
With governor's help, state GOP angling for $2 million paydayLOS ANGELES -- Republicans say a fundraiser headlined by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger next week may bring in up to $2 million and be one of the state party's biggest paydays since the Ronald Reagan era - if not the biggest ever.
Schwarzenegger's election last year marked a turning point for the state party, which for years saw Democrats control the state's top offices. The governor's success has attracted donors who "believe, for the first time in a long time, that the Republican Party can deliver in November," said Karen Hanretty, a spokeswoman for the state party.
"People like to be with a winner," Hanretty said. She said Schwarzenegger "has been able to do more to raise the profile of the California Republican Party - and raise money for our effort - than any governor since Ronald Reagan."
Schwarzenegger has used his celebrity appeal to help Republican candidates raise campaign cash, but the "Governor's Gala" at a West Los Angeles hotel on Monday marks his coming out party as the state GOP's unofficial money magnet.
For $125,000, donors can be named a "gala chairman" and receive a host of perks in return, from seats at the head table to invitations to events at the national convention in New York this summer. In some cases, donations to the party "may be made in any amount," according to documents on the GOP's web site.
Schwarzenegger isn't missing the gold rush. A fund-raiser that could pull in as much as $300,000 is being held on his behalf Wednesday at a Yuba City restaurant, with money divided between two of his political committees.
The state party fund-raiser is being conducted under a complex set of legal guidelines that allow contributors' cash to be sprinkled across a web of state GOP activities, sometimes in unlimited amounts.
The funds do not go directly to candidates but can end up helping in GOP races in a variety of ways, from registering new voters to financing pamphlets promoting Republican causes. The bulk of the cash raised at the event will support state elections, although some money can also be channeled to support state candidates in federal races.
Critics say such dinners provide an opportunity for people who do business or who want to do business with the state to get face time with the governor and other top GOP lawmakers.
"Those people are looking for access to the governor, regardless of who the money is actually going to," said Carmen Balber of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a consumer watchdog group.
Ticket packages for the dinner also include $50,000 for a "gala co-chair" or $25,000 for a "gala vice-chair." Those packages include tickets to VIP receptions with party leaders and a special guest, such as a legislator, will be seated at a table purchased by the donor.
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