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Before and After, Supplements in the Picture

Schwarzenegger stays connected to an industry he helped build. Ethics issues arise.

July 23, 2005|Robert Salladay and Dan Morain | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ended his $8-million contract with a muscle magazine publisher last week. But his deep emotional, political and business ties to bodybuilding -- and to the supplement industry that feeds it -- won't be so easily severed.

Since becoming governor, Schwarzenegger has remained closely involved with the bodybuilding world and with the supplement companies whose products promise such things as ripped muscles, "thermonuclear" energy and better sex.

According to documents and interviews with industry leaders, Schwarzenegger has continued to give the industry advice. He has participated in private meetings about government regulations. The governor also received personal income from the Arnold Classic bodybuilding contest, which serves as a showplace for supplements.

And since entering politics, he has accepted $242,000 in contributions to his gubernatorial campaign and other causes from individuals and companies connected to the bodybuilding and supplement industry.

Supplement makers say the governor is strongly in their corner.

"Arnold is first and foremost a good diplomat for the bodybuilding and sports supplement industry," said Lee Labrada, a former Mr. Universe and president of Labrada Nutrition, which sells such products as an "embryonic peptide matrix" and "Super Charge" energy drink.

After questions arose about potential conflicts of interest, the governor last week ended his relationship with American Media Operations Inc., publisher of Muscle & Fitness and Flex. He also said he would stop taking income from the bodybuilding and supplement exposition that carries his name.

Few people would be surprised that Schwarzenegger has contacts with the bodybuilding industry -- as a seven-time Mr. Olympia, he is perhaps the most famous bodybuilder in the world.

But now that he is governor, state conflict-of-interest rules apply to him. State law requires public officials to perform their duties "free from bias caused by their own financial interests or the financial interests of persons who have supported them." His contract with American Media required him to "further the business objectives" of the company.

Schwarzenegger's aides said the governor has no direct financial connection to the supplement industry, even though the industry's ads dominate the muscle magazines that paid him. They said the governor had no conflict of interest when he vetoed a bill in 2004 that would have regulated supplements -- the magazines paid Schwarzenegger, not the advertisers.

Rob Stutzman, the governor's communications director, said Schwarzenegger supports numerous business endeavors -- including the real estate industry and the California Chamber of Commerce -- and his support for the supplement industry should not be surprising given his history.

"His long documented involvement with supplements is a deeply held personal belief," Stutzman said, "just as his beliefs about [not raising] taxes and about the need to reform California and build highways to the future."

One of the main sponsors for the Arnold Classic bodybuilding competition is General Nutrition Centers, a shopping mall retailer that is one of the largest sellers of supplements. Company spokesman Steven Nelson said the Arnold Classic "allows us to connect with one of our largest segments of customers: the sports enthusiasts and bodybuilders."

Just before taking office in 2003, Schwarzenegger reported personal income from two dozen bodybuilding and supplement companies -- such as SportPharma, Twinlab, VPX and Pinnacle Bodyonics. The income was funneled through his former company, Classic Productions Inc., which produces the Arnold Classic in Ohio every year.

After taking office, Schwarzenegger ended his ownership stake in Classic Productions, his aides said, although he still received an income from the company until last week. Like his American Media contract, Stutzman said the relationship with Classic Production was ended to avoid "any distraction his political opponents or the media can use against him."

Stutzman said Schwarzenegger would not return any money he received from the two Arnold Classics that have taken place while he has been governor. He also will not return money he has received from the magazines. Under California campaign laws, Schwarzenegger is not required to disclose the exact amount he received from those contracts, only that he was paid more than $10,000 for each.

Even while governor, Schwarzenegger's involvement with supplement companies extends to regulatory and political issues as well. At the Arnold Classic convention last March in Ohio, Schwarzenegger attended a private meeting with executives from the nutritional supplement industry whose products have been under fire by California lawmakers and regulators.

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