The Daily News of Los Angeles
SACRAMENTO – When he launched his political career a year ago Friday with a historic appearance on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” bodybuilder/movie star/businessman Arnold Schwarzenegger boldly promised to “clean house in Sacramento” and end the influence of special interests.
On Friday, Schwarzenegger will mark the one-year anniversary of his announcement with a return visit to Leno’s show, able to boast about a string of successes while chastened by a few scars from political battles he could not fully win and political promises he could not keep.
And critics are accusing him of cutting a budget deal with phantom savings and heavy borrowing while taking millions in campaign donations from special interests – just like Gov. Gray Davis, the man he ousted from office.
“People thought he was fundamentally different,” said Doug Heller, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a Santa Monica group that maintains a Web site, http://www.arnoldwatch.org, that lists more than 40 donations of $100,000 or more to Schwarzenegger’s various political committees from corporate interests.
“Turns out he’s not. He just looks better on TV.”
In launching his campaign to replace Gov. Gray Davis in the recall election, Schwarzenegger sketched out a few broad themes on the Aug. 6, 2003, show, saying he would stand up to special interests and he wouldn’t need to take any campaign funds from anyone because he had plenty of his own money.
He told reporters backstage that he would spend “whatever is necessary, whether it’s $5 million or $10 million. It makes no difference to me.”
He did indeed throw at least $10 million from his own pocket into the recall campaign – but he quickly found that wasn’t enough.
Schwarzenegger went on to raise more than $21 million in the campaign from private donors and special interests. Since taking office as governor in November, he has raised an additional $12 million for various political causes and ballot measures.
His fund-raising pace has far exceeded that of Davis, who was criticized heavily for constantly calling donors, and for the alleged effect contributions had on his policies.
Critics say Schwarzenegger’s promise to sweep out the special interests in Sacramento essentially amounted to sweeping out Democratic special interests such as unions and attorneys in favor of Republican interests.
His biggest donors come from some of the wealthiest sectors of the California economy, including developers and real estate interests, financiers, technology companies and insurers.
“The governor has at least implied that the folks giving him money aren’t special interests, that he would sweep the special interests out of Sacramento,” said Andy Draheim, a spokesman for California Common Cause.
“But to the public the kind of folks that are giving to him – developers, financiers, interests in variety of industries – they look every bit as muchlike special interests to the public as the people who gave money to Gray Davis.”
Representatives of special interests have also won appointments to key positions in the Schwarzenegger administration, including chief of staff Patricia Clarey, a former executive of Woodland Hills-based HMO HealthNet; deputy chief of staff Cassandra Pye and legislative secretary Richard Costigan, both former executives of the California Chamber of Commerce; James Branham, undersecretary at the state Environmental Protection Agency, a former timber executive; and commissioner of financial institutions Howard Gould, a former banking industry executive.
Schwarzenegger’s communications director, Rob Stutzman, who was also on his campaign team, said the governor had to raise funds because running for office in this state is so expensive. But Schwarzenegger, he said, has stood by the essence of the message he delivered that day on Leno’s show.
“What he wanted to convey to people that night and continues to convey by that remark is ‘I can’t be bought.’ And the public still understands that and believes that. He’s here to do the people’s bidding, not the bidding of anyone who may contribute to his campaigns.”
And the governor has made good on his promise to clean up Sacramento, Stutzman said.
“There’s a bipartisan budget that was agreed to. You’ve got the bipartisan success of workers’ compensation reform, the bipartisan success of Props. 57 and 58 (the governor’s economic recovery plan on the March ballot).
“And there’s just a newfound spirit of cooperation here that didn’t exist during the Gray Davis years.”
Contact the author Harrison Sheppard at: (916) 446-6723 or [email protected]