Governor’s nonprofit political fund reaches half-million dollars

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Associated Press

SACRAMENTO (AP) — A private nonprofit corporation organized by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to help support his political interests has spent close to $500,000 so far this year without disclosing who donated the money or exactly how it was spent.

Records filed with the state show the California Recovery Team received nearly $250,000 in support between July and October from one of Schwarzenegger’s own political action committees to pay for public rallies and phone banks aimed at urging voters to contact lawmakers on budget issues.

But although Schwarzenegger has said one of his main goals is more open government, the report doesn’t identify the donors to the nonprofit’s political activities or what vendors were hired to organize the rallies and make the phone calls.

Schwarzenegger’s attorney, Thomas Hiltachk, said state laws do not require any more details about the nonprofit’s spending and argued that the governor is already disclosing more than is required.

Some political watchdogs have criticized Schwarzenegger’s use of the nonprofit because it allows him to circumvent disclosure laws that apply to most political action committees. Hiltachk, however, denied the governor is attempting to conceal his campaign supporters or expenses.

“There’s never been any intention to hide anything,” he said. “We’re are just filing out the forms and complying with the law.”

But Doug Heller of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a Santa Monica-based interest group, disputes the need for the nonprofit entity unless Schwarzenegger’s goal is to make it difficult for the voters to understand how he is raising and spending campaign money.

“I don’t buy it,” Heller said. “I think they do have an interest in hiding what they are doing. The want to keep the public unaware.”

Hiltachk said all the governor’s campaign contributors are disclosed in reports from his political action committees. He said most of the money spent by the nonprofit entity went to Hartman Studios of Richmond, which does all the governor’s outdoor campaign events.

However, shortly after the nonprofit group, the California Recovery Team, received its federal tax exempt status, Hiltachk said the group and the governor’s primary ballot measure political action committee — called Gov. Schwarzenegger’s California Recovery Team” — would be identical. That is, no spending would be undertaken by the nonprofit that was not fully disclosed by the political action committee.

Hiltachk clarified Tuesday that the nonprofit would be used to pay for the governor’s “grass roots” lobbying activities and that state law does not require detailed expense reporting for lobbying.
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