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Spending May Prove Costly to Governor

Millions on public events and private jets. Thousands on top-tier catering and expense auditing. Well-funded foes could gain an edge.

March 19, 2006|Robert Salladay | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Almost everywhere Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger travels, he is shadowed by another sturdy Austrian: Dieter Rauter, his stunt double on "Terminator 3" and other films.

Rauter today is a member of the governor's vast and expensive political apparatus. When Schwarzenegger meets the public, Rauter's hand-held digital camera records the event for posterity, a service that has cost about $62,000 since Schwarzenegger entered politics about four years ago.

Another longtime Schwarzenegger friend gets $100,000 a year as a speech coach. A Hollywood acquaintance makes campaign jackets and T-shirts, a $69,000 expense so far.

Schwarzenegger hires scores of the best political operatives, travels exclusively by private jet and insists on a sought-after cinematographer to film his commercials -- productions that involve casting agents, caterers, dry-cleaners. In flashiness and magnitude, his public appearances have exceeded anything else in modern California politics.

The premium expenses show that although Schwarzenegger is working in Sacramento, he hasn't entirely left Hollywood. The platinum-plated operation has given a tactical advantage to his political foes, whose spending habits have been more efficient and traditional.

Schwarzenegger's campaigns have written more than 8,100 checks totaling $142 million to promote nearly a dozen ballot initiatives, get him elected in the 2003 recall and launch his reelection effort. Fourteen campaign committees have existed to raise money for his causes.

The governor spends tens of millions of dollars on public events, television ads, polling and other traditional political activity. But he has spent a smaller percentage than his opponents on the No. 1 task of any campaign: communicating with the public.

The public employee unions that ran an anti-Schwarzenegger campaign during last year's special election spent about 75% of their money addressing voters through television ads, radio spots, phone banks and mailed brochures, according to state records. Schwarzenegger, who sponsored four ballot initiatives and lost every one, spent 63% of his cash communicating his message in those ways, the records show.

Schwarzenegger was vastly outspent by his opponents overall last year, but inefficiency hurt him too, said Ray McNally, a lead consultant on the successful union-backed effort. The governor waited so long to schedule time on TV stations, for example, that he paid dearly for it -- frequently double what the unions paid to place an ad in the same time slot.

In politics, McNally said, there are "two things you cannot afford to waste -- money and time -- and he wasted both."

Schwarzenegger's spending could be a critical issue this year as he seeks reelection. He hopes to raise as much as $75 million and must contend with new limits on donations.

His two main Democratic rivals already have millions more than Schwarzenegger, whose campaign started the year in debt.

The governor has acknowledged worrying about his spending. He hired a longtime friend, Steven Kram, a former chief operating officer of the William Morris Agency who handled business matters for Schwarzenegger, to monitor expenses and cut costs last year. The campaign paid Kram's consulting company, MAX MMC Inc., $130,000 for his work.

Schwarzenegger said in an interview that he personally reviewed last year's finances and "couldn't really find anything. It was not like someone ripped us off or someone misused money."

This year, Schwarzenegger said, he wants to "get the best for the money.... Every dollar we raise we will have to spend on television and other ads."

Schwarzenegger is not the biggest spender in California politics. The unions spent $164 million against his initiatives last year. The pharmaceutical industry unloaded $90 million on two other measures related to drug prices, both of which failed.

The governor came in third, spending about $74 million, rounding out the most expensive year ever in California politics. Schwarzenegger's fame, however, gets him more publicity than his opponents and costs his campaign nothing.

But no other elected official in California has raised and spent as much money as Schwarzenegger, particularly in such a short time. Beyond the $142 million already garnered and spent from mostly corporate contributors, Schwarzenegger has benefited from millions more raised through nonprofit entities created to support his political endeavors, housing and foreign travel.

The governor and his wife, Maria Shriver, have spent $25 million of their personal fortune on his political causes. Schwarzenegger does not take his $175,000 government salary, and he pays for his commuting costs between Los Angeles and Sacramento.

Some of the campaign money has been spent on things only Schwarzenegger might require as one of the most recognizable figures in the world, a member of the Kennedy clan and a former movie star with admittedly large appetites and unique security needs.

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