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Sacramento Bee
Mar 15, 2007 - 01:00 AM

by Kevin Yamamura, Bee Capitol Bureau

Donor appeal raises brows -- Governor promises dinner, other perks for up to $250,000

Despite calling for a future fundraising ban during budget season, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is asking donors to give as much as $250,000 to attend an exclusive dinner and reception at his Brentwood mansion with additional access through "regular conference calls."

Watchdog groups believe the price tag is a record amount for any politician and takes advantage of a Schwarzenegger fundraising group that faces no limits under state law.

They criticized the governor for giving special access to an elite group of donors at the same time he has asked legislators to approve a fundraising blackout that stretches at least several weeks in the spring and summer.

"Here's a governor who proposed a ban on fundraisers during budget season, and now he's asking the highest price ever for people to come to his dinner table," said Jamie Court, president of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Santa Monica.

According to an invitation obtained by the Los Angeles Times, donors can give $100,000 or $250,000 to become part of the "Governor's Executive Committee." That entitles participants to four meetings with Schwarzenegger, an April 25 reception and June 6 dinner at his home, and regular conference calls with the governor and other "well-known Californians from the public and private sectors." Those who give $250,000 have the opportunity to host the governor at their own homes.

For donors lighter in the wallet, the governor offers membership to his "Advisory Committee." Those who give $25,000 or $50,000 can attend the four meetings with Schwarzenegger, the reception at his house and participate in conference calls.

Campaign spokeswoman Julie Soderlund described the calls as "opportunities for the governor to talk about his vision for the state." Schwarzenegger held conference calls with donors during the 2005 special election.

Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, said such calls have been used by Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush. But he said he was particularly surprised by the amount of money Schwarzenegger is soliciting when he cannot run again for re-election.

"It's a nonelection year," Stern said. "He shouldn't be fundraising. He's going way over the candidate limits."

The money goes toward the governor's ballot-measure committee, the California Recovery Team. The committee is not limited in the amounts it can take in. By comparison, Schwarzenegger was allowed to raise $22,300 per donor each election cycle in his last campaign for governor, though he held more-expensive fundraisers for the California Republican Party.

Schwarzenegger last tapped his ballot-measure committee during the 2005 special election, when he campaigned for initiatives to change the redistricting process, restrict teacher tenure, control state spending and limit political use of union dues, all of which failed.

Schwarzenegger has not announced plans to place any new initiatives on the ballot, though he still wants to overhaul the process in which the state draws its political boundaries.

Soderlund said the governor plans to use the funds to support his efforts on redistricting, in addition to improving the state's environment, health care system and prisons.

"The California Recovery Team exists to support the governor and his agenda, and all funds raised are used to move the governor's vision forward," she said. "When he was elected, he promised to address issues Californians care about."

But it remains unclear how the money will specifically address those issues. The governor previously has used the California Recovery Team to pay for his own travel, including his private plane service. He also used the account in 2005 to pay aides who worked on his special election campaign outside their state duties.

Stern said Schwarzenegger could use his latest donations to pay bonuses to state aides, as he has done in the past.

"There's no shame anymore," Stern said. "The governor has become a politician. It's a long way from Jay Leno."

Stern was referencing the time when Schwarzenegger announced his candidacy during the 2003 recall election and said, "As you know, I don't need to take money from anyone."

Since then, the governor has raised more than $110 million for his various campaigns.

CALIFORNIA RECOVERY TEAM

A letter from the governor and first lady invites the California Recovery Team Advisory Council to their Brentwood home for a cocktail reception April 25:

GOVERNORS EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE

Founding member: $250,000 -- Board member: $100,000

All members are invited to four Advisory Council meetings with the governor.

Members will also be included in regular conference calls with the governor and leading and well-known Californians from the public and private sectors.

All members are invited to a reception at the governor and first lady's home on April 25.

Dinner at the home of the governor and first lady on June 6.

Event in the fall to include a special VIP guest.

Founding members will be given the opportunity to host the governor at one of the quarterly Advisory Council meetings.

GOVERNOR'S ADVISORY COMMITTEE

Platinum: $50,000 -- Silver: $25,000

All members are invited to four Advisory Council meetings with the governor.

Members will also be included in regular conference calls with the governor and leading and well-known Californians from the public and private sectors.

All members are invited to a reception at the governor and first lady's home on April 25.
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The Bee's Kevin Yamamura can be reached at (916) 326-5548 or kyamamura@sacbee.com.




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