THE DRAFTERS OF CALIFORNIA'S long-standing conflict-of-interest rules for public officials certainly never envisioned a governor who would find it suitable to earn upward of $1 million a year working for magazines that are basically platforms for the advertising of a single industry.
True, Arnold Schwarzenegger is in a category all his own because of his ability to make money off of his image. But any governor could attract outside income simply by being governor. Given a transgression the size of Schwarzenegger's, state law needs to be changed to flatly bar the governor and the seven other statewide officeholders from earning outside income while in office.
This is a simple change that the Legislature should take up as soon as it returns to Sacramento from its summer recess on Aug. 15.
A related issue is the adequacy of California's rules governing the disclosure of assets and income by all public officials. The state's disclosure laws get high ratings from the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit watchdog based in Washington, but there are inconsistencies and loopholes that need to be fixed. Current law only requires Schwarzenegger to report that he received more than $10,000 a year from America Media Inc., the publisher of supermarket tabloids as well as Muscle & Fitness and Flex magazines. Non-employment business and investment income is separately reported.
Schwarzenegger's work for American Media was not secret, but the size and type of his personal gain were never stated. Alarms went off when a recent filing with federal officials disclosed the million-dollar payments to him. The governor, after two days of defending the contract, canceled it (though he kept the money he'd already been paid and refused to say how much, which indicates that he still sees nothing wrong with the arrangement).
The California Democratic Party has filed a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission, claiming that Schwarzenegger violated conflict-of-interest laws by vetoing a bill last year that would have prohibited high school athletes from using dietary supplements that are popular with body builders. Its case is that the Schwarzenegger deal granted him 1% of the magazines' advertising revenue, most of which comes from companies marketing such supplements. The Democrats' claim may be a stretch under California law, all the more reason for an outright ban on such income. The annual pay for California's governor is $175,000. The other statewide offices pay from $131,250 to $148,750. If that's not enough to attract officeholders willing to live on a salary, the independent Citizens Compensation Commission should consider raises.
The governor's spokeswoman said Schwarzenegger might consider supporting such legislation if it also applied to the 120 members of the Legislature. That's a red herring because the two are not fully comparable.
Legislators may, and do, recuse themselves from voting on measures that pose a possible conflict of interest. They also, as part of the term limits law, are denied pension plans. Legislators receive $99,000 a year (increasing by 12% in December), plus living expenses while in session. L.A. City Council members make $149,160 per year and can take no outside income. Members of Congress may add up to $24,315 in outside income to their annual salary of $162,100, but the type of work allowed is restricted. Certainly the disclosures by state legislators should be better, and limits on the type of outside employment should be stricter. For instance, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) shouldn't have been able to take a $35,000 salary from a union-affiliated nonprofit organization (a tie he has severed).
However, unlike a state legislator or even a City Council member, the governor cannot recuse himself from, say, signing or vetoing legislation. If he declines to act on a bill, it becomes law anyway. In the end, he is personally responsible for everything his administration does. Serving as chief executive of a state of 37 million people is a full-time job for anyone, even Schwarzenegger.