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Nov 08, 2004 - 04:25 PM
Out to Sushi?by Douglas Heller
According to an LA Times analysis, Arnold's staff has accepted hundreds of gifts worth tens of thousands of dollars from special interests. These gifts ranged from 152 lunches to $7,818 in Kings tickets to a trip to the circus for Arnold's PR chief's family. [Note #1 to PR team: taking special interest perks is not good PR for the gov who said he'd get rid of the special interests.] (A full database of the gifts is available at http://www.latimes.com/lobbygifts).
Now that Arnold has announced a delegation of special interests -- led by Chamber of Commerce chief Allan Zaremberg -- which will join him on his upcoming trip to Japan, we can only imagine what goodies might be showered on the gov's staff from the corporations on this trip. A Samurai Sword from Sunkist. A day at the Dojo from Disney. Yakitori from United.
The point is Arnold should never have let this special interest gift giving get out of hand as it has. The interests are wining and dining his administration and will continue to because they know their generosity will be repaid when decisions are made.
If Schwarzenegger really wanted to cut special interests out of Sacramento, the Gov would have brought down the hatchet on his legislative secretary (who took two dozen special interest gifts) and the rest of Team Arnold that raked in $44K worth of special treatment from special interests. Instead, Arnold's spokeswoman Margita Thompson told the Times that the outings -- like her family's free ride to Disneyland -- "affords you an opportunity in an informal setting to develop a rapport and build on a relationship." She then added that it would be unfair to make administration officials with salaries over $100K pay for their own iPods or family trips to Sea World. [Note #2: saying high paid staffers deserve free stuff makes the gov look out of touch.]
In Arnold's "I'm no Gray Davis" administration, why would these special interests even try to buy their way into the Gov's inner sanctum? "It just makes good sense," said California's largest land developer; "having a relationship allows you to be higher on [government officials'] calendar," said ChevronTexaco's lobbyist. The largess, says a British Petroleum flak, "allows us to have, in a relaxed setting, the ability to meet those people who are involved in. . . all the government decisions that affect our business."
The reason these interests want to be higher on the calendar is because they have big money issues before the administration. ChevronTexaco aims for support from Arnold & Co. on plans to bring Liquefied Natural Gas into California, for example. SBC, which wants to shape Arnold's appointments to the Public Utilities Commission, gave Kings Tickets to the Gov's Appointments Secretary.
For some clarity on the need to avoid too much coziness with the special interests, Gray Davis himself chimed in and counseled from experience: "over time you feel the need to reciprocate. It's human nature." Arnold needing Gray for ethics advice, who could have guessed?
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