SACRAMENTO — A grim-faced firefighter in a red helmet looks out from a campaign mailer sent to millions of Californians by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, implying the man supports the governor on a controversial Nov. 8 election initiative.
But Schwarzenegger's camp bought the image from a photo archive in Seattle, angering a group of unionized California firefighters who say the governor should stop using them as props.
"This just goes along with his whole mantra of, 'I played a firefighter in a movie. I will just buy a firefighter,' " said Lou Paulson, president of California Professional Firefighters, one of the main unions fighting the governor.
The photo, which also shows up in a brochure for Countrywide Home Loans explaining its financial privacy policies, was purchased from Getty Images, an archive used by advertising agencies throughout the world. A high-resolution copy costs $299.
The photo is used in 5 million mailers to promote Proposition 75, which would curb the use of union dues for political purposes. The text says union "bosses can take money from teachers, firefighters and other union employees and spend it on political campaigns without getting the members' permission."
Unions and Democrats opposing Schwarzenegger say the initiative is an attempt to squeeze their coffers dry and reduce their bargaining power in Sacramento.
Jim Mihalka, a dispatcher for the Los Angeles Fire Department, raised alarms about the picture and sent it to the campaign working to defeat Schwarzenegger. The giveaway? The helmet without a city seal, he said: "If he is a firefighter, then the teddy bear I gave my wife for Valentine's Day is a firefighter, because he has the same helmet on."
Todd Harris, a campaign spokesman for Schwarzenegger, said the photograph was used because union members have been harassed for supporting the governor, particularly teachers who have bucked the California Teachers Assn., the main financial backer of the opposition campaign.
"The fact of the matter is we would have loved to have used a California firefighter," Harris said, "but every single time a member of one of these unions voices support for us, they receive threats and massive levels of intimidation from the union bosses."
Paulson said firefighters are "keenly aware of where our images are used." After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he said, the union sent out a memo to political consultants around the state asking them to refrain from using images of firefighters for political gain.
Schwarzenegger was criticized by some firefighter unions after appearing two weeks ago in Thousand Oaks to greet crews battling wildfires. About 20 firefighters flanked the governor at the event. Television news images from the event were broadcast, but have not been used in campaign materials.
Pat McOsker, president of United Firefighters of Los Angeles, told The Times that the firefighters were used as props under duress, but the governor's office said the firefighters volunteered to appear and greeted the governor warmly.
"Nobody was forced to be there," said Michael McKinney, 32, a volunteer photographer for the Ventura County Fire Department, who is supporting the governor. He said he has not been subject to harassment because of his stance supporting Schwarzenegger.
Paulson acknowledged that some unionized firefighters could in fact support the governor on Proposition 75, but Schwarzenegger "would have to look long and hard to find one. He just can't."