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Ventura County Star (California)
Feb 23, 2007 - 01:00 AM

by Thomas D. Elias - OPINION

No signs governor will moderate fundraising

There are signs aplenty that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's striking move to the left during last year's re-election campaign is going to last. But there's one aspect of the early governator that shows no sign of changing even a little bit.

There are several indicators that the Schwarzenegger shift to being a de facto Democrat and a RINO (Republican in name only) is not mere flim-flam. Among them: a state move to make it harder for health maintenance organizations to drop policyholders after they get sick, another effort by Schwarzenegger appointees to punish workers' compensation insurance companies that wrongly delay or deny treatment to those injured on the job and the governor's well-publicized push for universal health insurance.

But when it comes to what the legendary Democratic Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh called the mother's milk of politics -- money -- there are no signs of any deviation from past Schwarzenegger practices.

Even though he has no visible reason to raise large amounts of money, since he's got almost four years left to serve and has no further declared political ambitions, Schwarzenegger keeps right on bringing in the big checks.

Since he began his first run for governor in August 2003, he has raised more than $130 million, taking the vast majority long after he was already in office.

Now he's set up an "officeholder" account, taking advantage of a bill he signed that allows legislators and other officials who are ineligible to run for office again to continue raising money anyway. Each donor to Schwarzenegger's new fund can give up to $20,000 per year, with an annual maximum of $200,000 total taken in. There are no limits on the number of executives of companies like Sempra Energy, Pacific Gas and Electric, Shell Oil, Chevron and other major past contributors who can kick in.

The governor still maintains his "California Recovery Team" money-raising mechanism, for which there are no limits on corporate or individual donations. He has used that fund to back ballot initiatives and other causes he favors. There were also no limits on donations to Schwarzenegger's inaugural celebration committee.

When he ran in the 2003 recall, Schwarzenegger decried the manner in which ex-Gov. Gray Davis appeared to sell public policy and state contracts in exchange for campaign dollars.

Now, it's possible to link public policy and Schwarzenegger donors, too. From his support for liquefied natural gas to his refusal to allow any linking of minimum wages to inflation, many Schwarzenegger actions directly support the interests of his biggest contributors.

Robert Stern, president of the nonpartisan Center for Government Studies, makes no bones about what he thinks of the new officeholder accounts. "It's to enable them to get money from people who want something from them," Stern said.

Said Carmen Balber, an official of the Foundation for Consumer and Taxpayer Rights: "The governor, who promised to clean up Sacramento, can't make any more excuses. With no upcoming election and no initiatives on the ballot, Arnold doesn't have to keep playing the fundraising game he claims to despise."

But he continues, having averaged about $95,000 a day in receipts since he became a politician. No problem, Schwarzenegger says, he can't be corrupted by money. And it's true that he has kicked in more dollars to his campaigns (well more than $8 million in personal cash) than any other donor.

He also insists that the new fund and his old ones are necessary for the way he governs. As a former action movie actor, Schwarzenegger is totally committed to what Hollywood calls "production values." Movies with poor lighting, lousy scenery and music that doesn't fit don't do well. Schwarzenegger plainly thinks it's the same for political events.

He wants professional lighting every time he stages a press conference or town hall meeting. He wants help paying for the private jet he uses to commute from his Los Angeles home to his Sacramento hotel suite and myriad other points. He wants quality satellite feeds for the webcasts he conducts with increasing frequency.

The late longtime political gadfly Ralph Morrell, of Dixon, spent years fighting now-defunct legislative "slush funds" that allowed politicians to spend state money on anything they liked, from fixing up their homes to paying off pals. It's easy to imagine what he and another more prominent deceased gadfly, Proposition 13 co-author Howard Jarvis, would have to say about the new officeholder accounts.

"An invitation to corruption," Morrell called the old publicly financed funds. He'd use even stronger words to describe the new officeholder accounts because they come from private sources with axes to grind.

Schwarzenegger ran for office as an alleged antidote to the corruption voters felt was pervasive in Sacramento. If he really meant it, it is now high time for him to perform as convincing a turn-around in fundraising as he has done in some public policy areas. But there are no signs he intends anything of the sort.
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Thomas D. Elias, of Santa Monica, is a columnist and author. His e-mail address is tdelias@aol.com.




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