SACRAMENTO — Soon after Arnold Schwarzenegger entered the 2003 recall campaign, a tabloid publisher that was recruiting him as a consultant tried to suppress a risque 1983 Playboy video starring the future governor.
The video, which had first aired years before on the Playboy Channel, shows him grabbing a scantily clad woman and making other sexually suggestive gestures.
American Media Inc., publisher of the National Enquirer, paid Thomas Wells of Los Angeles $2,000 for a copy of the video under two agreements that barred him from discussing it with anyone but the company.
After the Enquirer secured Wells' tape in September 2003, the tabloid did not mention it in any articles. The video was being sold on the Internet at the time; it is not clear whether the company knew that when it made the purchase.
The Wells contracts, reviewed by The Times, were at least the second instance of American Media paying for confidentiality agreements with people who might have been in positions to embarrass the candidate over his dealings with women.
The contracts were referred to among some American Media staff as the "David Pecker Project." Pecker is the chief executive officer of American Media. He had met with Schwarzenegger earlier that year to discuss a multimillion-dollar consulting deal that made him the public face of the company's two muscle magazines, Flex and Muscle & Fitness.
In buying Wells' copy of the video, the company prepared documents that offer a one-sentence description of the contents: "Arnold Schwarzenegger groping a woman in Australia." (The film was actually shot in Rio de Janeiro.)
A former American Media executive, speaking on condition of anonymity because he signed an agreement not to talk publicly about the company, said the firm wanted to spare Schwarzenegger possible embarrassment during his gubernatorial campaign.
"We were protecting him," the former executive said.
American Media spokesman Stuart Zakim said the company would not comment.
Asked whether the governor knew of American Media's purchase, Schwarzenegger's communications director, Rob Stutzman, said: "The governor is not aware of any activity from AMI.
"It was a video written about during the campaign, and it has been publicly distributed," Stutzman added. "And above all else, it proves the governor doesn't dance so well at times."
American Media bought the video amid discussions with Schwarzenegger over the role he would play at the company.
Pecker had met with Schwarzenegger in his Santa Monica office in July 2003 to talk about the partnership, among other matters. Schwarzenegger signed an agreement to work for American Media on Nov. 15, two days before he was sworn into office.
The deal made Schwarzenegger executive editor of the two magazines and paid him a percentage of advertising revenue. In the contract, the governor pledged to "further the business objectives" of American Media. Schwarzenegger severed his contract two months ago, when the arrangement was made public.
Florida-based American Media had earlier paid a Malibu woman, Gigi Goyette, $20,000 for agreeing to keep quiet about her relationship with Schwarzenegger and to share her story solely with American Media. That deal was signed two days after Schwarzenegger entered the race.
The company signed a similar agreement with a friend of Goyette, Judy Mora, who was paid $1,000 in cash, and in return agreed to reveal nothing about the relationship.
"Pecker wanted to protect Arnold, since he was very important to their two titles, Flex and Muscle & Fitness," said a second source, who worked at American Media at the time and also asked not to be named because he has a confidentiality agreement with the company. "When we had embarrassing information about Arnold, we were to buy it up off the market."
In the Goyette case, as with the videotape, the National Enquirer did not publish a story based on the information purchased by its owner. The Enquirer had already published an article in 2001 alleging that Goyette once had a sexual relationship with Schwarzenegger.
The videotape is titled "Carnival in Rio" and was made for a division of Playboy Enterprises. The 86-minute production is hosted by Schwarzenegger and features Rio's raucous annual pre-Lenten carnival. He provides a travelogue against a backdrop of topless women, provocative dancing, eating, drinking and partying.
Early on, he dances at a nightclub with three women in gold-beaded thongs and matching bikini tops. At one point, he grabs a dancer's buttocks; she immediately clasps his wrists and pushes his hands away.
"You know something," Schwarzenegger says in the film, "after watching the [dancers] shake it, I can absolutely understand why Brazil is totally devoted to my favorite body part: the ass."
In a later scene at a dining table, he slowly feeds a woman a carrot as the camera moves in for a close-up.