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May 19, 2008 - 06:15 PM

Party and travel, all part of the job

by Carmen Balber
The Los Angeles Times turned a spotlight on Governor Schwarzenegger's love of corporate fundraising on Sunday, and the FPPC built another level of disclosure for privately financed political trips in regulations newly approved this morning.

The public's work should be done on the public's dime. That way, I don't have to worry that someone else has bought my representative's position. Arnold, though, thinks we should all be grateful that corporations are eager to buy their way into his inner circle. Wrote the Times:

In a telephone call from his Capitol office, Schwarzenegger secured agreement from General Electric's chairman and chief executive, Jeffrey Immelt, that the Fortune 500 company would co-host and help pay for the Border Governors Conference this August at Universal Studios in Hollywood, which the corporation owns.

The event could cost more than $3 million between GE and other private sponsors, according to participants in the planning of the conference, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the arrangements.

That would make it an expensive example of a technique Schwarzenegger has embraced to bring the glitzy style he appreciates to ceremonial state functions: getting corporations and wealthy supporters to pay for them. The governor's aides say the practice saves taxpayers money.

Government watchdog groups argue that it may compromise the administration's independence from corporate interests. Schwarzenegger's phone call with Immelt was arranged by a GE executive, formerly an advisor to the governor, who oversees the company's lobbyists in Sacramento.

But as the Times reminds us:

The bulk of private support received by Schwarzenegger's office has come from the California Protocol Foundation, a nonprofit group affiliated with the California Chamber of Commerce that does not disclose the names of its donors or the details of specific expenditures.

...The group has spent millions on jet planes, hotels and meals for the governor and his staff on trips described as "trade missions."

The state ethics board is working on forcing such contributions out into the open, with new limits on gifts of travel to state and local agencies. Schwarzenegger would be required to disclose as personal gifts all travel expenditures made on his behalf, rather than obscure them in haphazard agency records. That means a direct catalogue of the millions spent so the governor could sleep and fly in style. (More here on the other big rules the FPPC approved this morning.)

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