The Los Angeles Daily News
“Pay-to-play,” Republicans shouted all through the last two years Democrat Gray Davis spent in the governor’s office.
And they were correct. Corporations and special interests that contributed the most to Davis’ political coffers generally won at least his ear and often saw their fondest desires turned into state policy or contracts. That’s the very definition of pay-to-play.
Now it’s an open question whether the glamorous and freshly-minted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will do things very differently. After utilizing the pay-to-play mantra against Davis, it’s a matter of course that he says he’s not nearly the same.
But from the moment he declared his candidacy the former muscleman actor promised he would take no money from “special interests.” He also bragged that he would not need to depend on campaign donations from others because of his great personal wealth.
Then he gave his own definition of special interests: Indian casinos and labor unions. And began collecting donations from hundreds of corporations, executives and industry groups.
Businesses, corporations and their owners are not special interests, Schwarzenegger said, because they create jobs. So, he said, he was not pandering to special interests when he reneged on his promise not to take large campaign contributions and scoured the countryside for money from anyone except Indian casinos and labor unions.
Now we’re about to see what those donations — most contributed after Schwarzenegger’s election — may have bought, aside from the opportunity to schmooze with the new governor at country clubs, palatial estates and in luxury boxes at Staples Center in Los Angeles or Sacramento’s Arco Arena.
For one of Schwarzenegger’s first actions as governor was to suspend all newly-ordered regulations, the rules laid down by bureaucrats for administering state laws. He wants to review them all for their potential effects on business before letting them take effect, Schwarzenegger said.
He also wants to review five years’ worth of old regulations. The net result has been de facto suspension of some new laws and there could eventually be much wider effects than that.
So far, the most controversial held-up regulation has been one demanding greater water efficiency from clothes-washing machines, which could save billions of gallons of water yearly. That has environmentalists worried.
Other regulations now in abeyance include some affecting programs for the disabled and others affecting new home construction. Schwarzenegger aides also have raised doubts over whether they’ll stick with landmark Davis-set rules for nurse-patient ratios in hospitals.
Which rules stay and which don’t will say a lot about whether Schwarzenegger really is different or just another pay-to-play politician of the sort Californians rebelled against in last fall’s recall election. For among the mass of donations he’s accepted are some from the largest developers in California. These folks are not casinos or labor unions, of course, so the governor says they’re not special interests.
They include the Irvine Co., whose chief, Donald Bren, hosted one fund-raiser at the Shady Canyon Country Club in Orange County, a property developed by his company. Bren and his wife have given $62,400 to the governor, at a time when the Irvine Co. is lobbying agencies like the state departments of Food and Agriculture, Conservation, and Fish and Game, as well as Caltrans, the Coastal Commission and its parent, the Resources Agency.
Other Schwarzenegger donors with a similar “lack” of special interest include Waste Management Corp. ($41,400), which wants less regulation of the sanitation industry; Central Pacific Mortgage ($21,200), which might want fewer predatory lending laws and less financial privacy for consumers.
There are also car dealers wanting no return, ever, of the car tax Schwarzenegger already rolled back: Clifford Cummings of Toyota of San Bernardino, Wayne Huizenga of AutoNation, Don Gropetti of Shel-Don Inc., David Wilson of Toyota of Orange, David Conant of Conant Automotive Resources, Fletcher Jones of Fletcher Jones Management, H.F. and Jane Boeckmann of Galpin Motors and more.
So far, in fact, the biggest donor industries to Schwarzenegger’s coffers are land development, motor vehicles and financial companies from stock brokerages to mortgage companies.
“To try to make the argument that these groups don’t have a vested interest in what happens at the Capitol is an insult to the intelligence of the electorate,” Jim Knox of California Common Cause told one reporter. “Of course they have a vested interest. That’s why they’re giving.” Or maybe it’s just because they like being around movie stars.
Like most politicians, Schwarzenegger denies that donors get anything for their money. But as with all politicians, it will pay to watch what he does more closely than what he says.
Thomas D. Elias is author of “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. His e-mail [email protected]