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Got Special Interests?

How Arnold Schwarzenegger balances the interests of business and society will be the biggest challenge of the gubernatorial career he begins today. These weblogs will chronicle that balancing act and will be devoted to watching the hidden hand of special interests in the Schwarzenegger administration.

by  Jamie Court
November 17, 2003

Elected as the man of the people, Arnold is now acting more like the man of the big-business people.

Schwarzenegger promised to clean house of special interest influence in Sacramento, yet he recently appointed the Chamber of Commerce's chief lobbyist Richard Costigan as his legislative secretary, the filter for every bill going to his desk. His chief of staff is a former HMO executive.

The governor-elect may be receiving praise for his appointment of an environmentalist to head the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal EPA), but it is big-business people who hold the keys to his cabinet and signature.

As important, Cal EPA has limited staff and its under-secretary is an executive from Pacific Lumber. The true environmental power resides with the independent boards beneath Cal EPA and many of those appointments are expected to go to Chamber loyalists.

That would explain why Arnold was the first candidate for any constitutional office that the Chamber of Commerce has endorsed in over 100 years. It's also probably a reason the Chamber is treating for the "free lunch" at Schwarzenegger's inauguration. The public cannot even get into the inauguration, but seats are reserved for Arnold's biggest boosters, including many from the local chambers.

The governor elect would argue it's merely a matter of definitions. According to Schwarzenegger, special interests are only native American tribes and labor unions, not the Chamber of Commerce and the big businesses it represents.

So who is of real interest to Arnold? You would know if you could pay $21,200 to join Arnold in an LA King's luxury box at his December 4th fundraiser. Itís those who can afford to pay.

The problem is that after today's inauguration Schwarzenegger's definitions will become California's and the governor-elect speaks the language of the Chamber of Commerce.

Arnold's policy papers are all about getting the regulators, the legislators, and the litigators off big business's back. Return to electricity deregulation. Stop the bureaucratic mandates on business. Terminate the job killer bills.

This is the same old rant that the Chamber has made with increasing arrogance for the last two decades and that led society to the pinnacle of free market madness that was Enron.

What's frightening is Arnold's uber-brand may be big enough to erase all those lessons and legitimize the man of the corporation as nothing less than a populist brand.

The Chamber has long sought to re-brand its consumer and societal takeaways -- including restricted legal rights, fewer workplace protections and reduced state regulation -- as populist, even pro-consumer, by claiming, for example, that their policies would lower the cost of products.

As one major think tank explained, such perception management could make "the rhetoric of liability reform incorporate transcending concepts like consumer choice, fairness and equity."

Arnold's real threat is that he can possibly make such mumbo-jumbo fly based on the same branding principles that won him the governorship.

Promoting the most verifiable, but least credible promise is the quintessential marketing formula, and Arnold knows it well. People like "100% Satisfaction Guaranteed" because it sounds too verifiable to lie about. The equivalent promise in a campaign for governor is "sweeping special interests out of government while making it business-friendly", or "balancing the budget without raising taxes or cutting programs."

Arnold's coming out as governor is not so much of an inauguration as the launching of a new super brand for big business. The Chamber will have a new shaman to make their old agenda transcendental.

It won't be business as usual in the capitol, but business as never before, on steroids if you will. Arnold will re-brand electricity deregulation with a greener veneer. There will be plenty of privacy protections, for the corporations that is. The Chamber's planned ballot initiative to end public interest group lawsuits that prevent corporate deceptions might find a new mascot.

The only thing to stand in the way of Arnold redefining the corporationís place is the dictionary. Webster's defines special interest this way: "noun. a person or group seeking to influence legislative or government policy to further often narrowly defined interests; especially lobby."

Actors may lie for a living, but as governor, Arnoldís words must ring true. ArnoldWatch will hold Governor Schwarzenegger accountable to his own promises and make certain that there is some truth in advertising.


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