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Gov. Leads Trade Mission to China

A delegation to drum up more commerce for California includes executives and lobbyists, some of them donors to Schwarzenegger causes.

November 13, 2005|Robert Salladay | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING — In the wake of Tuesday's special election defeat, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger arrives Monday in China with a large delegation that includes nearly two dozen campaign contributors who could get special access to Chinese officials and the governor himself.

Traveling to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong by chartered jet, the nearly 80 business executives and lobbyists will be honored by dinners in first-class hotels, attend receptions and participate in three closed-door "industry-specific" discussions with the governor and his top Cabinet officials.

Among the delegation are representatives from 23 companies and lobbying groups that donated $3.4 million to Schwarzenegger's campaigns this year alone.

Other firms will help pay for the governor's expenses and a Beijing trade show Wednesday highlighting various California products, including fruit, nuts and mechanical pumping equipment.

The governor's aides are arranging meetings with influential Chinese government officials who could be crucial to helping California business interests. With an eye on the burgeoning Chinese market, major companies such as Sunkist, Disney, Miller Brewing, Chevron Global Gas and Maersk shipping have signed up for the trip.

The six-day trade mission will give Schwarzenegger a respite from the political battering he took during the special election campaign.

He is expected to highlight California products, attend a "Harry Potter" movie premiere and unveil a public service television ad with action star Jackie Chan attacking copyright infringement -- all friendly events 7,000 miles away from the turmoil of California politics.

Business leaders traveling with him say they think the governor's celebrity image overseas and his proximity to top-level Chinese officials will help sell their products and close deals in the future.

"I can believe that a 6-year-old kid in Niger can look up at a poster and recognize Schwarzenegger," said a member of the entourage, John Allen, president of Wilden Pump & Engineering Co. of Riverside County. The firm does $3 million in business with China each year.

Allen cited a survey that found the governor's image around the world as recognizable as those of Jesus Christ, Che Guevara and Bob Marley. Schwarzenegger's "recognizability factor will bring out the finest and most prominent players" in China, he said.

The group includes representatives from Abbott Laboratories and Pfizer, part of a drug company trade organization that has been one of Schwarzenegger's most generous supporters.

With the failure last week of two initiatives that sought to lower the price of some prescriptions, the focus now turns to the administration and the Legislature to deal with rising drug costs.

Other big Schwarzenegger campaign donors on the trip include the California Farm Bureau Federation, Target stores, Fox Entertainment Group and Qualcomm wireless.

A handful of companies in the group outsource manufacturing jobs to China. Among them is UTStarcom, an Alameda-based enterprise that makes the majority of its wireless switching equipment in China, according to the company.

High-tech entrepreneur and Schwarzenegger patron Timothy Draper, who has investments in a Chinese Internet search engine, cellphone software, advertising and video technology, is part of the entourage.

A lobbyist from Chevron, a global company that donated $300,000 to the governor this year, is traveling with Schwarzenegger, along with executives from the California Chamber of Commerce, a $1.9-million donor to various Schwarzenegger-backed initiatives this year.

"When people financially support the governor, I think it's people who see the value of having the government promote California," said chamber President Allen Zaremberg, who will also attend.

Yet, he said, based on his experience traveling with Schwarzenegger on a trade mission to Japan, "I don't think any one individual spends that much time with the governor at all.... If that is what you are looking for, this is not the place for it."

Administration officials deny that campaign contributions influence any of the governor's actions, and they say many members of the delegation did not give Schwarzenegger financial support.

Mark Mosher, executive director of the California Commission on Jobs and Economic Growth, which is organizing the trip for the governor, said he asked numerous businesses to participate based on their interest in China. But he added that "sponsorship is not a prerequisite" for traveling with Schwarzenegger.

Draper, in an e-mail exchange, said that he already had many contacts in China and the administration and that Schwarzenegger was "not really" opening doors for him.

Campaign finance and government ethics groups, however, question whether the trip allows corporate interests to gain an advantage over other businesses simply because they have donated money to support the governor's political endeavors and events on the trip itself.

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