Donors to governor get posts of prestige;

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Del Mar Fair Board a prized assignment

The San Diego Union Tribune

SACRAMENTO, CA — When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was swept into office by the recall election in 2003, he promised to end politics as usual, where “money goes in and favors go out.”

But Schwarzenegger has carried on the political tradition of providing favors — in the form of coveted state appointments — to generous campaign donors.

At least 13 of Schwarzenegger’s appointees, their spouses and their companies have contributed more than $1.4 million to his campaigns, according to campaign disclosure forms and a review by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

Schwarzenegger has hired some donors for key positions in government, but has also made several appointments that bestow prestige rather than pay. He has named five major donors or their spouses to the unpaid Del Mar Fair Board, one of the most sought-after appointments in state government.

Among Schwarzenegger’s appointees to the board was defense contractor Brent Wilkes, who has since resigned. Wilkes has been identified as a co-conspirator in the case of convicted former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham. Wilkes has not been charged.

During the 2003 campaign, he served as county finance co-chairman for Schwarzenegger. Wilkes, his wife, Regina, and his company, ADCS Inc., contributed $77,400 to Schwarzenegger.

California’s governor is responsible for filling hundreds of positions. These include judgeships that come open between elections, highly paid senior staffers to help run the state government and members of unpaid boards and commissions.

“Large contributors shouldn’t be rewarded for their loyalty. These appointments should be based on merit alone,” said Carmen Balber, who works for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. “In some cases, these people weren’t the best appointees.”

The foundation supports Proposition 89 on the November ballot. The initiative would publicly finance campaigns and limit large donations to candidates. Sponsored by the state nurses association, it is opposed by the California Teachers Association and the California Chamber of Commerce.

Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Sabrina Lockhart said political donations do not influence appointments. “We always look for the person who is most qualified to fill the position,” she said.

Former Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat knocked out of office in the 2003 recall election, was pounded by opponents for appointing campaign contributors to important jobs.

Schwarzenegger, even though he didn’t mention appointments specifically, promised a different approach to state government during the campaign.

“Here’s how it works,” he said in one television ad. “Money goes in. Favors go out. The people lose. We need to send a message. Game over.”

Balber said Schwarzenegger continues to play the game by the same rules.

“These appointments show how far Governor Schwarzenegger has strayed from his promise that he would clean up government,” she said.

Schwarzenegger’s appointees include Orange County grower A.G. Kawamura, who donated $21,200 and serves as food and agriculture secretary; Gap Inc. founder Donald G. Fisher, who contributed $223,500 and serves as a member of the state Board of Education; and Frederick Ruiz, chairman of Ruiz Food Products Inc. in the Central Valley, who donated $10,000 and serves as a University of California regent.

Schwarzenegger appointed five contributors to the Del Mar Fair Board — officially the 22nd District Agricultural Association board of directors — which oversees the Del Mar Fairgrounds, racetrack, the Horsepark equestrian facilities and a golf center.

Officials from the fair and governor’s staff confirm that a Del Mar Fair Board appointment is one of the most desired appointments. Informally, it is ranked just behind serving as a UC regent.

The nine directors, who oversee operations and meet monthly, aren’t paid. But they enjoy free parking, a free concert box during the fair, admission to any events at the facility and access to the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club’s director’s room during the racing season.

“It is considered to be a prestigious position by people in society,’ said former director Louis Wolfsheimer.

Among Schwarzenegger’s Del Mar appointments are:

Douglas Barnhart, head of the Douglas E. Barnhart Inc. construction firm, who has donated $140,900.

Kelly Burt, chairman of Price Self Storage, who has given $142,000 to the governor and his causes. Burt is also on the boards of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and Rancho Bernardo Community Bank.

Patricia Davies, the wife of Schwarzenegger’s judicial adviser, attorney John Davies, who has donated $16,150 to the governor. She was named to the state Race Track Leasing Commission this month.

Vivian Hardage, a community activist who helped start a San Diego Republican women’s club and the Vision of Children Foundation, which fights hereditary blindness. Hardage and her husband, developer Sam Hardage, a San Diego Republican leader, have given $36,200 to the governor.

Even though Del Mar directors earn no salary, campaign finance watchdogs say these positions shouldn’t be given out as rewards.

“For some wealthy people, prestige is more valuable than a high-paying position because they get a spot in the public eye,” Balber said.

Bob Stern, who heads the Center for Governmental Studies, said a prestige appointment provides the recognition that some donors seek.

“You give in order to be noticed. People want to be noticed by Arnold, especially because he’s a star,” Stern said.

Wolfsheimer, an attorney, was a modest donor to former Gov. Pete Wilson, who named him to the board. He enjoyed the job, but found that it was “a lot more work than wonderful things that fall into your lap.”

After all, he said, “how many days can you go to the races?”

Tim Fennell, general manager of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, said directors work hard to help manage the fairgrounds and other holdings. “They love the facility. They love helping people,” Fennell said.

Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Lockhart praised the governor’s appointees. “Each one of these appointees is involved in the community. They understand the San Diego area,” she said.

Hardage said she doesn’t see the appointment as a favor from Schwarzenegger for contributions.

“We don’t make donations expecting anything in return except better government,” she said.

She said that many people are appointed because they are active in the community. Frequently, those activists are also involved in politics.

Barnhart said he believes he was appointed because of his construction industry experience. “If you ever are doing a major upgrade, it makes sense to have someone with a background in building,” he said.

Barnhart, a former president of the Contractors State License Board, said he is serving to help Schwarzenegger.

“I believe in the governor. There’s no question about that. I want him to be successful,” he said.

Barnhart said Schwarzenegger has appointed a variety of people to boards and commissions, including naming a balanced Del Mar Fair Board.

“Governor Schwarzenegger is doing a good job,” Barnhart said. “He’s got women on the board. He’s got men on the board. He’s left some Davis appointees on the board.”

Like Schwarzenegger, Davis appointed contributors to the fair board, including current director Lisa Barkett, whose husband donated $75,000 to Davis.

Schwarzenegger appointed Wilkes, a prominent Republican and a donor to his campaign, to the fair board in April 2004 and to the Race Track Leasing Commission in April 2005.

Both appointments came before the Cunningham scandal was uncovered and Wilkes was identified as a key player in the case. After that became public, Schwarzenegger asked Wilkes to resign both posts, but kept the campaign contributions. Other officeholders gave Wilkes’ donations to charities.

Schwarzenegger said that any appointee “resigns immediately if they are doing anything unlawful or that is not cool.”

The Republican governor explained why he wouldn’t return the Wilkes money or give it to charity in a December news conference. “When anyone sends you money they are buying into your philosophy and to our plan,” he said. “We are not buying into theirs.”

Schwarzenegger has also established a record of appointing Democrats who haven’t given him money to state jobs, judicial positions and boards and commissions.

In 2005, Schwarzenegger appointed Democrat Michael Alpert, a retired attorney and husband of former state Sen. Dede Alpert of San Diego, to the fair board.

Alpert, as the chairman of the state’s Little Hoover Commission, had been critical of Schwarzenegger’s governmental reorganization plan. As a result, he was a little puzzled to get the Del Mar job.

His selection, he said, runs counter to the trend of governors selecting donors. “I’m sure with me and my wife’s background, everyone knew I wouldn’t be a big contributor,” he said.

Prestigious appointments

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has received sizable campaign contributions from people he has appointed to the Del Mar Fair Board. Contributions include money given by the board member, spouse and businesses owned by either.

President, Douglas E. Barnhart Inc. construction firm
Appointed: 2004
Contributions: $140,900

CEO/chairman, Price Self Storage
Appointed: 2005
Contributions: $142,000

Community activist and wife of attorney John Davies, judicial adviser for Schwarzenegger
Appointed: 2006
Contributions: $16,150

Community activist and wife of Republican leader and developer Sam Hardage
Appointed: 2005
Contributions: $36,200

Head of ADCS Inc.
Appointed: 2004 (resigned in 2005)
Contributions: $77,400

SOURCES: State disclosure forms; Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights

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