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Let the state pay

October 25, 2005

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER has the right idea in planning a trade mission to China next month. He should encourage more contact between two of the wealthiest economies in the world, which can only lead to more trade and more jobs. But such state business should be paid for by the state, not under the table by business interests currying the favor of both the governor and the Chinese.

The governor's spokeswoman says the trip is being privately financed to ease the burden on California taxpayers. Spare us the concern. This is the same kind of muddled thinking that convinced the governor earlier that it was better to be on a muscle magazine's payroll than on the public payroll.

Those footing the bill for the trip will potentially get exclusive access to Schwarzenegger and Chinese officials, leading to deep potential conflicts of interest for the governor. Because there is no way for voters to know who the donors are, there is no way to hold Schwarzenegger accountable if he later acts in their interest. At least Chevron Corp. acknowledges that it will participate in the trip to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. The firm has donated $75,000 to the California Protocol Foundation in the last two years. A Chevron official noted that the firm has significant business interests in the country. Good luck to Chevron's competitors in trying to get a fair hearing for their proposals.

Since his gubernatorial campaign in 2003, Schwarzenegger has insisted that he can't be bought. We take him at his word, but using fundraising shenanigans to pay for such travel only does further damage to his already strained credibility.

It's true that Schwarzenegger isn't the first California governor to privatize trade missions. Gov. Gray Davis did the same. But Schwarzenegger won the recall election in part by promising to end the cozy relationships between donors and the governor's office.

Further, even Davis eventually succumbed to political pressure and released the names of donors for his 1999 trip to Europe and the Middle East, which is more than Schwarzenegger has done. Even if the current governor follows suit, it isn't enough. He should let the state pay for the state's business.

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