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Jan 02, 2007 - 04:45 PM

Dining for Dollars

by Judy Dugan
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's very private lunch Friday night with the 60 heavyweights who paid for his private inuagural shindig is dominated by the real estate and construction trades, big insurance companies, oil companies--and lobbyists and executives with a direct direct stake in the governor's sweeping health reform plan.

The 11 health-industry donors include a major health insurance trade group, other lobbying groups for hospitals, doctors, dentists, opthalomologists and surgeons, and businesses that buy up medical groups and hospitals to pull profit out of them. All of them want to make sure their profits won't be touched when the high-flown language about reform gets down to the legislative nitty-gritty.

The state Chamber of Commerce, which wants to make sure no employers are required to pay for health insurance, is a donor as well.

As the executives and lobbyists dine, they'll be getting precious face time with Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders. When it comes time to decide whether the administrative bloat and outrageous CEO salaries of HMOs and insurers should come under a regulatory knife, they'll know who to call--and will get their calls answered.

Schwarzenegger's health issues chief, Kim Belshe, subbed for the governor in his weekly radio address Saturday, saying that when it comes to health care reform, "the state, employers, individuals, doctors and hospitals and insurers must all work together in partnership." Of those groups, only one isn't invited to Arnold's table.

Schwarzenegger and his spokespeople continuously protest that political contributions don't buy influence. Yet New York's new Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who made his reputation as attorney general by going after corporate wrongdoers, celebrated his public swearing-in Monday with a public open house at the governor's mansion rather than inviting bigwigs to pay up in exchange for exclusive access.

The governor lives in a hotel suite paid for by other rich supporters, so maybe an open house wouldn't work--think of the room service bill.

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