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Nov 21, 2006 - 01:00 AM
by STEVE LAWRENCE, Associated Press Writer
Governor opens fundraising account;
Critic calls it slush fundSACRAMENTO, CA -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is taking advantage of legislation he signed in September that will allow him to raise up to $200,000 a year from private donors to cover expenses associated with holding public office.
The Republican governor filed papers with the secretary of state's office on Nov. 9 forming the Governor Schwarzenegger Officeholder Committee. Under the law, which took effect immediately, the committee can collect up to $200,000 a year in donations of as much as $20,000 to pay "expenses associated with holding... office.''
The legislation, by Sen. Kevin Murray, D-Culver City, allows smaller donations to similar accounts set up by legislators and other state officials. It also requires the Fair Political Practices Commission to adjust the donation limits every odd-numbered year to keep up with inflation.
A spokeswoman for Schwarzenegger, Julie Soderlund, said money raised for the fund would be used to defray legitimate operating expenses "associated with serving as governor.'' The FPPC is drafting regulations that are expected to define what constitutes acceptable expenses under the Murray bill.
A critic of Schwarzenegger's fundraising said the money also could be used to pay for lavish parties and junkets. The new account amounts to "a sanitized slush fund,'' said Carmen Balber, a consumer advocate for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a Santa Monica-based group that has been critical of Schwarzenegger's fundraising.
"(This) creates yet another avenue for special interest access and influence on the administration,'' she said. "Taxpayers should pay for any legitimate officeholder expenses.''
Elected officials can tap campaign funds to cover those expenses now, as long as they are reasonably related to a governmental purpose.
But the governor, who won a second and final term on Nov. 7, is barred from continuing to raise money through his re-election committee except to pay off campaign debts.
The re-election committee, Californians for Schwarzenegger-2006, raised more than $42.8 million this year alone for Schwarzenegger's successful campaign against his Democratic opponent, state Treasurer Phil Angelides.
Altogether, Schwarzenegger has raised more than $113.4 million since mid-2003 for his own election campaigns and to promote ballot measures that he has supported. That total doesn't include $23.7 million the former actor has contributed to his campaign funds from his own pocket.
Schwarzenegger can continue to collect money through his California Recovery Team, a campaign committee he formed in 2004 to back ballot measures he supports or to fight those he opposes.
That committee has raised more than $552,000 so far this year, including $25,000 last week from Shell Oil Co. But the money cannot be used for so-called officeholder expenses.
He also has formed a separate committee to raise money for his inaugural celebration in January.
The governor, who promised to try to weaken the influence of special interests on state government when he ran for office during the 2003 recall election, has repeatedly said that donations from corporations and business groups to his campaign committees have not influenced his decisions.
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