No lack of donors for governor's inaugural

December 30, 2006|Evan Halper | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Donna Summer will sing at the black-tie gala. Tony award-winner Jennifer Holliday will croon at the swearing-in ceremony. A 20-foot-long fresh-water aquarium will grace the Capitol lawn. And construction firms, insurance companies, developers and other private donors -- most with business in the governor's office -- will pick up the tab of at least $1.4 million for a lavish party to kick off Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's second term.

Schwarzenegger's inaugural committee Friday announced the plans for next Friday's celebration, along with a list of donors. Campaign finance watchdogs have called the whole affair unseemly. Unlike other donations from special interests with business before the state, contributions to the inaugural committee are not subject to legal limits. Nine donors contributed at least $50,000 each to the event, which earned them the designation of "Gold Sponsor." Half the $1.4 million raised came in during the last two weeks.

Critics of the event say donors are less interested in funding a good party than being in the good graces of the governor when they need a favor.

"These donors aren't stupid," said Derek Cressman, an analyst with the Sacramento-based Poplar Institute, a nonprofit organization that studies the role of money in politics. "They are shrewd businesspeople who give money for sound business reasons. They give because they feel it will improve their bottom line by getting them access and goodwill with the governor's office.... I think it's inappropriate."

Among the Gold Sponsors of the event, which the inaugural committee says will highlight the state's environmental innovations, is Chevron. The oil company has long been at odds with environmental groups and helped lead the effort to defeat a ballot initiative in November that would have spurred billions of dollars in state-financed investment in alternative energy. Schwarzenegger joined the oil company in opposing it.

Another Gold Sponsor is Martin Matich, an Inland Empire construction magnate who earlier this year had part of the 210 Freeway named in his honor by the state. His firm, the Matich Corp., will be in contention for a chunk of the $37 billion in public works borrowing authorized by voters in November -- and which will be doled out by lawmakers and the governor.

Among other Gold Sponsors are E&J Gallo Winery, the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Grocers Assn. and a state realty group.

Julie Soderlund, a spokeswoman for the inaugural committee, said the companies give because "they believe in the governor's vision for the state of California."

She said such contributions in no way influence his actions in office.

"The governor makes decisions based upon what he believes is best for the people of California," Soderlund said.

The affair is expected to be the grandest the Capitol has seen in some time.

It will be kicked off on the Capitol lawn Thursday, with the "Leading the Green Dream" environmental event, which will be open to the public. The governor and First Lady Maria Shriver will be there, along with former NBA star Vlade Divac. There will be the giant aquarium, filled with fish from California rivers, and display models of cars that run on clean-burning fuels. Organic California-grown food will be shown off and consumed, and children can take part in interactive gardening projects.

The next day, some 3,000 invited guests will attend the governor's swearing-in at Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento. Jose Feliciano will perform the National Anthem, and Jennifer Holliday, whom the committee describes as "Broadway's original 'dream girl' " will sing the show's "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going." The event will also feature performances by the 59th Army National Guard Band and local Sacramento performers.

Then there is the luncheon with lawmakers at the Capitol, where the bands Mariachi Divas and Espino will perform.

Next, it's on to the "Celebrate the California Dream" black-tie gala at the Sacramento Convention Center. The 2,000 tickets -- $500 each -- sold out long ago. At the event, Paul Anka will sing "My Way," with new lyrics written especially for Schwarzenegger.

The gala will be capped off with a performance by Donna Summer. Among the hits she will sing is "She Works Hard for the Money."

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