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The San Francisco Chronicle
Mar 08, 2005 - 01:00 AM

by David Lazarus

Citizens to Save California farms a little menial work out to India

Citizens to Save California, a business-backed group with close ties to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, says it's committed to creating new jobs.

And it's starting in India.

As part of a $10 million petition drive to place the governor's proposed constitutional amendments before voters, Citizens to Save California has hired an out-of-state firm to verify signatures. That firm, in turn, is outsourcing the work to India.

Rick Claussen, the group's general manager, defended the move by emphasizing that most of the money will be spent in California. "Of the total amount, maybe only a few hundred thousand will go overseas," he said.

"The jobs we'll be creating in California make that amount of money absolutely silly," Claussen added.

But political watchdogs counter that it's disingenuous for a group that says it's dedicated to creating employment for Californians to be exporting work to another state and another country.

"It's shameful," said Doug Heller of ArnoldWatch.org, which is run by the nonprofit Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. "There is no shortage of Californians who would love to have a few hundred thousand dollars' worth of work."

Citizens to Save California was formed recently with a declared goal of raising as much as $50 million to promote Schwarzenegger's political agenda.

The group's Web site says it's "committed to a healthy and growing economy, getting California back on track, attracting new business and creating jobs."

Citizens to Save California is co-chaired by Allan Zaremberg, president of the California Chamber of Commerce, and Joel Fox, who worked as a senior policy consultant for Schwarzenegger in last year's recall campaign and now runs the Small Business Action Committee, a lobbying organization.

The group is backing a series of measures promoted by the governor, including a spending limit for the state budget and transforming the public employee pension system from one that guarantees benefits to a 401(k) plan.

Critics say Citizens to Save California is violating a state regulation that limits the amount of money that can be raised by a group controlled by an elected official.

In response, Citizens to Save California filed suit against the state Fair Political Practices Commission last month to overturn the cap on contributions to such entities.

Claussen, the group's general manager, said he hired a pair of California companies several weeks ago to coordinate the gathering of signatures for Schwarzenegger's ballot initiatives.

He said the companies -- National Petition Management and American Petition Consultants -- in turn contracted with an Oregon firm called TechSpeed to handle the labor-intensive task of typing in all names gathered, for electronic verification.

TechSpeed's headquarters is in Portland, but the company does most of its work in the Indian city of Pune.

Richard Plainfield, TechSpeed's co-founder, said he was prevented by confidentiality agreements from discussing individual clients.

He acknowledged, however, that "we use our facility in India to do the work for our customers," and noted that such work can be performed abroad for a fraction of the cost of doing it in the United States.

Zaremberg, co-chair of Citizens to Save California, said the decision to outsource the petition drive was primarily a factor of the "very, very short time frame in which we can collect signatures."

The group is attempting to gather about 5 million signatures by the end of next month.

"Time is of the essence," Zaremberg said.

Claussen, the general manager, said many political campaigns outsource petition work, and there's nothing surprising about the more labor-intensive aspects of that job being handled by overseas workers.

"If I was sending 99 percent of every dollar out of the country, I'd say that's something," he said. "But I'm frankly amazed that anyone would make a big deal out of this."

A spokeswoman for Schwarzenegger declined to comment.

But Steve Blackledge, legislative director for the California Public Interest Research Group, a consumer organization, said any outsourcing beyond state or national borders undermines the credibility of a group that says it's committed to California job creation.

"It's a public relations nightmare for them," he said.

Similarly, Ned Wigglesworth, an analyst with TheRestofUs.org, a Sacramento watchdog group, said the outsourcing suggests that Citizens to Save California is neither run by ordinary citizens nor intent on saving California's economy.

"With the 50 million bucks Citizens to Save California and Schwarzenegger are planning on raising, maybe they can book us all a passage to India," he said. "It sounds like that's where the jobs will be."
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David Lazarus' column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. He also can be seen regularly on KTVU's "Mornings on 2." Send tips or feedback to dlazarus@sfchronicle.com




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