Big-Ticket Drive Supports Gov.’s Agenda;

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Invitations are handed out for ‘an evening with Schwarzenegger,’ with dinners up to $100,000.

Los Angeles Times

SACRAMENTO — For $100,000, you can sit at the head table with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, hobnob at a reception beforehand and pose for pictures with the Republican governor.

But there is a limit to what your money can buy at one of several fundraisers: Only two guests per photo, please.

Billed as “An Evening with Governor Schwarzenegger,” invitations to four upcoming events were handed out Tuesday to lobbyists and business interests in Sacramento. They showed that proximity to the Republican governor comes in four varieties: $10,000, $25,000, $50,000 and $100,000.

The private meetings with some of California’s prominent business interests are scheduled to continue through April — gala dinners at the Sheraton Grand in Sacramento to the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco — as the governor pushes his agenda for changing state government.

For some, the meetings and the large amounts involved raise questions about whether Schwarzenegger is trying to skirt campaign finance rules. The governor himself is restricted to collecting $22,300 or less per donor, but there are no limits on what he can raise for initiative committees, as long as he remains independent of them.

“What’s so frightening about it is this is Gray Davis revisited,” said state Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough). Davis, whom Schwarzenegger ousted in the 2003 recall election, was derided for his prodigious fundraising while in office.

The governor consistently says he does not sell his power for money and cannot be bought by special interests. He likes to tell the story about returning a $100,000 check from a contributor who he said demanded a meeting with him to discuss a problem.

Schwarzenegger told The Times recently that he needs to raise at least $50 million to promote his agenda this year. He wants voters to approve five major changes: revamping the state’s pension system; requiring judges, rather than lawmakers, to determine voting districts; giving teachers merit pay; expanding the governor’s powers to restructure state bureaucracies; and installing a spending limit on state budgets.

On Tuesday in Sacramento, the governor met privately with several dozen lobbyists to promote Citizens to Save California, a nonprofit group set up to support his proposed changes in the form of ballot initiatives. Then came the pitch for money, in the form of material handed out at the event and obtained by The Times.

The invitation to the upcoming fundraisers said a “Dinner Chair” to the events could be purchased for $100,000 to get “head table seating with the governor for four guests” plus four additional seats in the audience, eight tickets to a reception, and four photos with the governor.

“Dinner Hosts” could get two tickets and one photo — but no seating with the governor — for $10,000.

Guest were asked to check a box next to their level of giving; $10,000 was the minimum. MasterCard, Visa and American Express were accepted, according to the material, which included this addendum: Citizens to Save California “is not controlled by the governor or his agents, and therefore contributions are not subject to any contribution limits.”

One person who attended the Sacramento meeting Tuesday said there were about 50 businesspeople, lobbyists and trade association executives at tables of 10, eating a beef-and-mushroom dish and vegetables. Schwarzenegger invoked an early 20th-century predecessor, reformer Hiram Johnson, in describing his sweeping proposals for change. The governor also said he wasn’t doing the job to get rich or become famous, noting that he was already both.

“He flavored himself as Hiram Johnson,” said the guest, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because Schwarzenegger had requested that the meeting remain private.

One of the speakers was Allan Zaremberg, head of the California Chamber of Commerce and co-chairman of Citizens to Save California. He emphasized that the committee was independent of the governor, and encouraged the audience to “get involved” in the campaign for change, according to guests.

The meeting also included the governor’s chief of staff, Patricia Clarey, and his legislative secretary, Richard Costigan. One guest said the governor got a big laugh when he called the Legislature “sleeping pills” for taking its time approving his agenda.

On Monday, a watchdog group based in Sacramento filed a complaint against the committee with state regulators. The group,, asked the Fair Political Practices Commission to investigate whether the committee is truly independent of Schwarzenegger and thus free to raise donations of unlimited size.

“This is disheartening,” Rebecca Avila, state chairwoman of California Common Cause, another watchdog group, said about the fundraising events. “The governor seems to be relying on the legal distinction between committees he controls and those he does not. In the voters’ minds, however, this distinction doesn’t exist. In the public’s view, big money and elected officials equals influence.”

Schwarzenegger’s office had no comment on Tuesday’s gathering. But Rick Claussen, a campaign manager for Citizens to Save California, said there was nothing improper about it.

“People are standing up,” Claussen said. “They’re saying, ‘We want to help. We want to be counted.’ And if that means they get a picture with the governor — hey, it’s a great life, isn’t it?”

Outside Tuesday’s event, held at the Sheraton Grand hotel not far from the Capitol, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a frequent critic of the governor, flew a plane with a banner that read: “Don’t Be Big Business’ Bully.”

Inside, Schwarzenegger made his way around the room shaking hands and saying, according to one attendee: “I’d like for this meeting to stay out of the L.A. Times.”
Upscale bash
Citizens to Save California fundraiser

These levels of “commitment” — with the accompanying perks — are solicited on the invitation to “An Evening with Governor Schwarzenegger,” a fundraiser organized by the group Citizens to Save California.

Dinner Chair
* Head table seating with the Governor for 4 guests
* 4 additional dinner tickets with premiere seating
* 8 tickets to the Host Committee Reception
* 4 photos with Governor Schwarzenegger (2 guests per photo)

Dinner Co-Chair
* Head table seating with the Governor for 2 guests
* 4 additional dinner tickets with premiere seating
* 6 tickets to the Host Committee Reception
* 3 photos with Governor Schwarzenegger (2 people per photo)

Dinner Sponsor
* Head table seating with the Governor for 1 guest
* 3 additional dinner tickets
* 4 tickets to the Host Committee Reception
* 2 photos with Governor Schwarzenegger (2 guests per photo)

Dinner Host
* 2 dinner tickets
* 2 tickets to the Host Committee Reception
* 1 photo with Governor Schwarzenegger (2 people per photo)
Note: At all levels, you may give OR raise these amounts. Please indicate which you will be doing.

Consumer Watchdog
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