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How Much From Special Interests?

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Marketplace Radio Program (NPR)
Aug 30, 2005 - 01:00 AM

by ANCHOR: CHERYL GLASER - REPORTER: JEFF TYLER

Governor Schwarzenegger starts fund-raising campaign

CHERYL GLASER, anchor: It's a California pastime: hot dogs, baseball and protesting the governor. When the Oakland A's take on the Los Angeles Angels tonight, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will be in the stands hosting a fund-raiser. It's part of a cross-country tour. The 'governator' is drumming up money to finance some pet ballot measures that Californians will vote on in a special election this fall. And his efforts have raised a lot of eyebrows. MARKETPLACE's Jeff Tyler looks at the price of mixing business with pleasure.

JEFF TYLER reporting: Take Arnold out to the ballpark? Tickets for today's fund-raiser reportedly cost 10,000 bucks, same price for seats at the Rolling Stones concert in Boston last week. Big spenders doled out $100,000 to share a private box with Governor Schwarzenegger. The money is going to build support for Schwarzenegger's proposals for redistricting, budget-cutting powers and teacher accountability. Vincent Sollitto is the governor's spokesman.

Mr. VINCENT SOLLITTO (Spokesman, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger): He needs to raise funds in order to get his reform agenda passed. It costs money to put his message on television. That's how you communicate with the voters. And, in fact, opponents of reform are raising millions of dollars as well.

TYLER: None of this fund-raising is illegal nor unprecedented, but it does run contrary to the image the movie star projected back when he ran for governor.

Mr. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Candidate for Governor of California): I will go to Sacramento, and I will clean house. As you know, I don't need to take any money from anybody. I have plenty of money myself. I will make the decisions for the people.

TYLER: Doug Heller is executive director for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. He says Governor Schwarzenegger promised last year not to fund-raise during these weeks in particular when bills are being sent to his desk for his signature or veto.

Mr. DOUG HELLER (Executive Director, Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights): The governor is supposed to be making independent decisions on all this legislation that is streaming towards his desk in these last weeks of the legislative session. Yet here he is in the evenings, going out and fund-raising all over the country from the very interests that have bills before him.

TYLER: Heller points to the Rolling Stones fund-raiser. Mortgage company AmeriQuest donated the tickets to that event in addition to making $1.5 million in campaign donations. The company has been lobbying Sacramento for several pending bills. He also takes issue with a Schwarzenegger fund-raiser in Los Angeles last week that was sponsored by the California Restaurant Association. That group opposes a bill that would raise the state's minimum wage, a bill now on its way to the governor's desk.

Group of Protesters: (Chanting in unison) Workers united! We cannot be divided!

TYLER: These union protesters aren't alone in their discontent. Polls show Schwarzenegger's approval rating has dropped 31 points in the past year. Spokesman Sollitto says Governor Schwarzenegger wants to limit contributions.

Mr. SOLLITTO: That would put a number of restrictions on fund-raising abilities both for the governor and for the Legislature. The Legislature has repeatedly failed to approve those measures.

TYLER: So, he says, the governor can't afford to operate under restrictive fund-raising standards that won't apply to his opponents. Besides, Sollitto says, the contributions have zero impact on the governor's decisions.

Mr. SOLLITTO: These outside things that you're referring to are, frankly, things that he doesn't even pay attention to.

TYLER: But Kathay Feng, executive director of the non-partisan California Common Cause, says whether or not there's any quid pro quo, raising big chunks of cash from rich donors or corporations sends the wrong signals.

Ms. KATHAY FENG (Executive Director, California Common Cause): It suggests that people have uneven access to the governor's eat. And those people who are able to give large amounts are necessarily going to also have a disproportionate voice in the shaping of our policy.

TYLER: The price tag for the special election is expected to run over $100 million. That's fertile ground, not just for protest, but for satire.

(Excerpt from musical satire)

Rapper: (With accent of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger rapping) Don't pay attention to those people out there. They are special interests, and I don't care. So write big checks and fill my sack. I'll be back. TYLER: In Los Angeles, I'm Jeff Tyler for MARKETPLACE.

(Excerpt from musical satire)

Backup Vocalists: (Singing in unison) He's the collectinator.

Rapper: (As Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger rapping): I'm taking a collection for my re-election.

Backup Vocalists: (Singing in unison) Don't need no calculator.

Rapper: (As Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger rapping) In my budget, we borrow like there's no tomorrow.




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