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How Much From Special Interests?

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Sacramento Bee
Jun 24, 2008 - 01:00 AM

by Kevin Yamamura

Non-Candidate Schwarzenegger Still Raises Millions In Political Cash

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger cannot run for re-election and has no stated plans to seek another office, but he still raises millions of dollars each year.
The governor's continued reliance on the ballot box means a constant need for campaign cash, and watchdog groups say that leaves him vulnerable to influence by special interests.

"I think voters should be wary of the extent to which the governor has to go to fund those ambitions," said Carmen Balber of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. "If you look at his overall trend, business interests are overwhelmingly represented."

Schwarzenegger has solicited more than $4.6 million this year as he pursues an initiative to change how California draws its voting district boundaries, which qualified last week for the November ballot. He also wants the Legislature to add three measures related to budget and water projects for the same election.

Schwarzenegger declared during the recall campaign in 2003 that "I don't need to take money from anyone," but he has raised more than $127 million since then, not counting money he has personally contributed. That figure surpasses the $87 million former Gov. Gray Davis raised over five years.

Schwarzenegger's fundraising totals this year are lower than in heavy campaign years like 2005 and 2006, but watchdog groups anticipate he will raise millions this fall to help his redistricting initiative pass in November.

The crowded ballot will have at least 11 proposals, which means redistricting proponents must spend more money to communicate their message. Bill Carrick, a Democratic consultant and a political advertising expert, estimated that a statewide ad purchase could cost more than $3 million a week.

"If you want to pass something, if you're the 'yes' side of something where the burden is so much more difficult, I think you could end up with a $20 million campaign," Carrick said.

The redistricting initiative has drawn support from a bipartisan coalition of groups and leaders that includes Schwarzenegger, former Democratic state Controller Steve Westly, AARP and California Common Cause.

Yet Schwarzenegger has been responsible for financing the initiative's signature-gathering efforts. He transferred $2.4 million in campaign money this spring to redistricting proponents. In the current cycle, the governor has raised $200,000 from Chevron Corp., $100,000 from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and $50,000 from State Farm Insurance. All have legislative business before the state.

More than $800,000 in additional contributions has come from regular Schwarzenegger donors, including Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens, Los Angeles developer Rick Caruso and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"The governor has strongly supported redistricting reform since he was elected," said Schwarzenegger campaign spokeswoman Julie Soderlund. "It is something he feels strongly about because the power to draw district lines should be in the hands of voters rather than politicians."

In addition to redistricting, Schwarzenegger wants the Legislature to place on the ballot a proposal to establish a budget rainy-day fund and expand gubernatorial authority to cut spending. He also wants voters to approve a plan allowing the state to borrow against future lottery revenues as part of his current budget solution. And he hopes to get a new bond for water projects on the November ballot.

Christina Lokke, policy advocate at California Common Cause, said she agrees that voters should be concerned about the large amounts of money necessary to approve initiatives in California, though her group is backing the redistricting proposal. She said it is a necessary move because the Legislature has refused to approve changes to the current process.

"I think there's always a concern when you see amounts of money influencing policy and politics, and sometimes there isn't an option to go any other route," Lokke said.

She acknowledged that the redistricting campaign will require "big donors to help out with media ads," but she noted that the campaign is also relying on "grass-roots" support.

Though he has been less vocal on campaign finance reform this year, Schwarzenegger still wants the Legislature to approve a fundraising ban during budget negotiations and during most of August and September when bills are approved and signed, said spokesman Aaron McLear.

He has not taken a position on Senate Constitutional Amendment 9, by Sen. Roy Ashburn, R-Bakersfield, which addresses redistricting, term limits and fundraising blackout periods.
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Contact the author at kyamamura@sacbee.com




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