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Governor raises $640,000 for his inaugural

Donations come from firms with business tied to state action and from lobbyists and backers.

December 16, 2006|Peter Nicholas | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has raised about $640,000 in private donations to cover part of the costs of his two-day inaugural celebration next month, tapping lobbyists, well-heeled campaign supporters, insurance companies and businesses that depend on state action as part of a fund-raising campaign that is still underway.

The committee staging the governor's inaugural ceremony released a list of 31 private donors Friday afternoon who have purchased either "gold" or "silver" sponsorships that entitle them to preferred seating at the governor's swearing-in, along with tickets to a private luncheon with state lawmakers.

Top-tier donors contributing $50,000 apiece include Chevron and the California Chamber of Commerce. The chamber is the state's top business lobbyist and a close ally of the governor.

Silver-level sponsors gave at least $15,000 each and include Pacific Life and Farmers insurance companies; Cemex, a cement producer that is locked in a dispute with the city of Santa Clarita over a proposed mine; and the Assn. of California Life and Health Insurance Companies, whose members have a stake in the governor's plans to expand access to healthcare.

Because Schwarzenegger is raising the money through a private, tax-exempt group -- not an ordinary campaign fund -- he is free to collect donations of any size. When a politician is running for a specific office, he faces tighter contribution caps and stricter disclosure requirements.

The governor is not legally required to disclose contributors to his inaugural fund but has chosen to do so voluntarily. Still, the list he released Friday offers less information than what is in a state campaign finance report. No addresses or occupations are given for the donors; no contribution dates are listed.

"The governor felt it was important to disclose the sponsors of his inaugural events and also felt it important that the taxpayers not bear the costs," said Julie Soderlund, spokeswoman for the '07 inaugural committee.

Watchdog groups criticized the governor for offering private firms and individuals another opportunity to gain influence in his administration. Schwarzenegger has already collected more than $114 million -- breaking all state fundraising records for a single candidate -- since he entered the recall campaign in 2003.

"People are not giving for altruistic purposes; they want to be recognized by the governor," said Robert Stern, co-author of the state's Political Reform Act and president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles. "And so there will be much appreciation by the governor and his office. It's a problem. It's a way to gain access to a high-ranking official."

Cemex was part of a group of 10 businesses whose representatives met privately with Schwarzenegger during his trade mission last month to Mexico. The company wants to mine nearly 70 million tons of sand, rock and gravel near Santa Clarita. City political leaders oppose the project, which requires approval from state and federal officials.

Santa Clarita officials are hoping the governor's office will help broker a settlement with the Mexican-based company.

Cemex's only other donation to Schwarzenegger was a $5,000 contribution to his reelection campaign in May, state records show.

Asked about the $15,000 donation from Cemex, Michael Murphy, Santa Clarita's intergovernmental relations officer, said: "I would expect that as a corporation doing business in the state of California, they would see it in their self-interest to participate."

Schwarzenegger will be sworn in for a second term Jan. 5. Organizers of his inaugural announced a bipartisan list of co-chairs Friday, including U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), who will be the next speaker of the House.

Schwarzenegger advisors have said the governor may challenge Boxer in 2010.

For her part, Pelosi campaigned for Schwarzenegger's opponent, Democratic state Treasurer Phil Angelides, in the governor's race that concluded last month.

After Schwarzenegger's lone debate with Angelides, Pelosi addressed a news conference and said: "It's very important to show the close connection of Arnold Schwarzenegger and George W. Bush."

Still, she chose to participate in the inaugural to underscore that she is ready to "move on," said her spokesman, Brendan Daly.

"We look forward to working together for the good of California," Daly said.

Other donors to Schwarzenegger's inaugural include:

* Raley's supermarket chain ($50,000)

* California Real Estate Political Action Committee ($50,000)

* Adams Steel, a scrap metal recycling company in Anaheim ($50,000)

* California Assn. of Hospitals and Health Systems (at least $15,000)

* Irvine Co., a real estate investment company in Newport Beach (at least $15,000).

peter.nicholas@latimes.com

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