Governor opens new donor fund;

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Officeholder account can pay for parties or bonuses for his staff.

The Sacramento Bee (California)

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wasted no time this month opening an account in which he can raise $200,000 annually for anything from staff parties to bonus paychecks for top aides.

The newly formed officeholder fund, established two days after he won re-election, provides Schwarzenegger a new vehicle to collect money from donors without opening a campaign account for future political office.

The Republican governor cannot run for a third term and has not indicated whether he will seek a different political position in four years.

Schwarzenegger in September signed the law that now allows him to raise up to $200,000 for extra officeholder expenses. The proposal, approved quietly at the end of session, also allows termed-out legislators to collect up to $50,000 a year and statewide officials to raise up to $100,000.

Lawmakers and statewide officials typically have used campaign money to pay for receptions, gifts and promotional activities they deem too lavish to have the state pay for.

The governor has not specified for what purposes he will use his new officeholder account. In the past year alone, he relied on his re-election campaign committee to pay for dramatic bill-signing events and $100,000 in bonuses to Chief of Staff Susan Kennedy beyond her $131,000 state salary.

“Governor Schwarzenegger believes that these expenses should not be covered by taxpayer dollars and therefore can be covered by raising funds,” said Schwarzenegger communications director Adam Mendelsohn.

The governor and termed-out lawmakers cannot use their re-election accounts to pay for officeholder expenses, according to campaign finance rules voters approved in 2000. Those rules led to the September bill signed by Schwarzenegger, which enables state officials to raise money in their final term to pay for extra expenses.

Carmen Balber, an advocate with the Santa Monica-based Foundation for Consumer and Taxpayer Rights, said officeholder accounts give donors another way to gain private access to political leaders.

“It’s simply a way to build up a slush fund that provides an avenue for large donors to give Schwarzenegger money when he’s not running for office,” Balber said.

Mendelsohn said that was “absolutely” not the case and that “individuals are buying into his vision for California.”

Besides the latest officeholder fund, the governor still has at least three other accounts with which to raise money: California Recovery Team, which collects unlimited funds largely to back ballot initiatives; his new nonprofit organization to pay for his inaugural festivities; and his 2006 re-election committee, which will remain active until he pays off his campaign debt.

In his California Recovery Team account, the governor last month received $250,000 from Clean Energy, a natural gas company on whose board sits Schwarzenegger friend and Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens. Shell Oil Co. also gave CRT $25,000 last week.
ABOUT THE WRITER: The Bee’s Kevin Yamamura can be reached at (916) 326-5548 or [email protected]

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