YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

He can't undo it

July 17, 2005

If Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger thought he could give up the millions from his muscle-magazine deal and make his problem go away, he's got another think coming. He's done a lot of damage to his already tattered reputation, and days of stonewalling made it worse.

Schwarzenegger -- in signing a deal worth up to $8 million that made him beholden to a publisher of muscle magazines and their advertisers -- showed that he didn't understand the phrase "conflict of interest."

By failing to disclose the specifics and the size of the deal, he appeared to have something to hide.

The deal's details came to light only because the publisher had to describe them in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, as The Times' Peter Nicholas and Robert Salladay reported Thursday.

Schwarzenegger's office vigorously defended what he'd done for two solid days, despite immediate public outrage. His announcement late Friday that he would give up the money and "discontinue the relationship" with the magazines does not end the issue, nor should it.

The governor of California is employed by the people of California, and he shouldn't work for some of them more than others. The principle would be the same whether a governor moonlighted for a power company, a candy maker or a bank, much less magazines supported by ads for muscle-building supplements and devoted to defending their advertisers against government regulation.

True, Schwarzenegger finally did the right thing. If only he had done it before signing a lucrative contract to consult and write for Muscle & Fitness and Flex magazines. If only he had fully disclosed the deal after he inked it. If only he had canceled it the minute it came to light.

The ludicrous defense mounted by the governor's office simply demeaned Schwarzenegger. His spokesman called the furor over the deal "much ado about nothing" and claimed the people of California ought to be grateful their governor was being underwritten by the private sector. When he ran for governor, Schwarzenegger boasted that his great wealth made him able to decline a salary and ignore special interests. The implication was that Schwarzenegger wouldn't take the job's $175,000 salary because he already had a lot of money, not that he would pass on it because he could get a lot more by moonlighting for another employer.

Schwarzenegger's contract called for him to "be responsive to reasonable requests" of the publisher. The August issue of Muscle & Fitness contains not only the governor's column but a long interview, availability that Schwarzenegger denies to the mainstream press. "The Interview ONLY M&F Could Get," says the cover blurb, and it's right. Another article, with photo, has the governor meeting with the magazine's advertisers at a conference organized by the publisher to fight government restrictions on bodybuilding supplements. The author says the governor promised to be just "a phone call away" in the battle.

Last year, he was just the stroke of a pen away. He vetoed legislation by state Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) that would have restricted use of these "enhancers" by high school athletes. This is damage that can't be erased.

This editorial page a few months ago sharply criticized Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) for accepting a $35,000 salary from a nonprofit affiliate of the L.A. County Federation of Labor. The principle applies to statewide leaders at any level of pay.

In an era of term limits when politicians do not have lifetime tenure (and state legislators do not even earn pensions), ethical rules do have to address tricky issues, such as a legislator's ongoing interest in a law practice or income from investments. A governor, who can never recuse himself from any matter before him, should adhere to the most stringent code. We'd suggest that California just copy Illinois. Its rules state: "Governors shall receive no other compensation for their services." Couldn't be clearer.

Closer to home, L.A.'s mayor and its City Council members, who make nearly $150,000 each, are rightly forbidden any outside income.

It is a tribute to previous governors that no one can recall any in the modern age trying to get away with a deal a fraction as odious as Schwarzenegger's. Now that it's been done, state law must quickly bar special interests from leasing California's governor -- or its Assembly speaker, for that matter.

Los Angeles Times Articles