Photo ops for sale, governor’s ear, too

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San Jose Mercury News

SACRAMENTO – Starting with a visit to his annual bodybuilding extravaganza this weekend, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will begin a presidential-style fundraising sweep for his re-election committee — including swanky events in Cincinnati, New York and Washington, D.C.

At the luncheons and dinners, representatives of banking, pharmaceutical and other business groups with a stake in California policy debates will pay thousands to dine next to, and have photos snapped with, the Republican governor. The tour comes as Schwarzenegger pushes a historic, multimillion-dollar initiative campaign against what he calls “special interests.” And it comes before Schwarzenegger has announced if he will run again in 2006.

He’ll spend much of this weekend at the Arnold Fitness Weekend in Columbus, Ohio, his annual festival of fitness, supplements and buff-dom.

While in Ohio, the governor will swing down to Cincinnati today, as the star attraction of a fundraiser hosted by Carl Linder, whose family runs American Financial Group and the Cincinnati Reds baseball team. Then it’s off to New York on Monday, for a fundraising dinner hosted at the 21 Club by Gov. George Pataki. Then on to Washington on Tuesday, where one of the event hosts will be prominent GOP lobbyist Ron Kaufman — whose drug-company clients have a keen interest in California, home to a pitched battle over spiraling drug costs. Thus far, Schwarzenegger has sided squarely with big drug companies.

Even as he raises millions for his initiative push and his re-election, Schwarzenegger appears to take great glee in criticizing politicians who are beholden to contributors. At the same time, his prolific fundraising has outpaced that of Democratic predecessor Gray Davis — who was recalled, in part, because of perceptions that his policy stances were for sale.

Critics contend Schwarzenegger does much the same — and gets away with it. They’ve posted invitations to several of the governor’s fundraisers online (

No tit for tat

California law allows politicians to talk to donors about their issues so long as they do not swap donations for decisions. The governor says he does not do the bidding of donors.

“We make it very clear we raise money. It’s all disclosed,” said Rob Stutzman, Schwarzenegger’s communications director. “The people of California understand the governor can’t be bought. The governor needs to raise roughly $50 million this year to beat back the special interests.”

Kaufman, the Washington lobbyist, says much the same. He is a senior partner at the Dutko Group, whose firm represents some 200 clients, including the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) — a big player in the prescription-drug debates.

Recommended donation levels for the luncheon at Washington’s St. Regis Hotel — billed as a “business round-table luncheon” — range from $5,000 to $22,300. The biggest donors get to sit at Schwarzenegger’s table and take photos with him, according to Roll Call’s “Heard on the Hill'” column.

In an interview, Kaufman stressed that his firm represents the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America only on federal issues, not California ones. Merrill Jacobs, who represents the pharmaceuticals group in Sacramento, said the group does not donate to California candidates.

Kaufman said people attending the event are drawn by Schwarzenegger’s “star quality.” Donations raised will be reported “fairly, quickly and accurately. That’s the best campaign-finance reform ever.”

Bad appearance

Events like the Washington fundraiser look bad, said Larry Noble, executive director of the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics in Washington D.C.

“This is the way many politicians work,” Noble said. “They raise money from industries they have helped and will help in the future. What makes this most notable is it’s being done at the same time Arnold Schwarzenegger denies that he’s doing it.”

Drug companies have much to gain or lose with Schwarzenegger. After vetoing measures that would have allowed importing cheaper medicine from Canada, he is backing the industry’s favored alternative — a bill this year that calls for voluntary discounts. There are also voluntary and importation measures vying for space on a special-election ballot. If the governor weighs in, he could buoy them to passage or doom them.

Pharmaceutical companies have given more than $300,000 to Schwarzenegger committees.

“The governor’s office is for sale,” said Jerry Flanagan, of the liberal-leaning Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights and “It’s not rocket science to see that big contributions equal favorable policy.”

After leaving Washington, Schwarzenegger will look for cash in-state again midmonth. He’s slated to attend a Palm Desert cocktail reception hosted by Williams-Sonoma chairman Howard Lester.

He’ll also stop by the Westin Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles on March 19 — where a contribution of $89,200 or more will allow donors to sit at the head table with the governor and receive three photos with him (but please, only “two people per photo,” the invitation notes).

Because the maximum allowable contribution to candidate-controlled committees is $22,300, the invitation helpfully outlines how two adults can each give the maximum amount to two committees controlled by the governor to reach $89,200.

“There’s a whole lot of fundraising going on — that’s a fair statement,” said Schwarzenegger fundraiser Marty Wilson. Even though Schwarzenegger ran as a campaign-finance reformer,” to do the kind of historic reform that he wants to do, he’s got to take his message to the people. The most effective way to do it is through paid media. We can only rev that Hummer up so many days to reach the people we need to reach.”
Contact Kate Folmar at [email protected] or (916) 441-4602.

Consumer Watchdog
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