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Governor's aides got big bonuses for political work

The quarter-million in compensation for four people came from campaign funds donated by private interests, raising ethical questions.

January 20, 2007|Peter Nicholas | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Four senior aides to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger were paid nearly a quarter-million dollars in bonuses for political work they performed during the governor's race -- money that came from insurers, oil companies, real estate developers and other private interests that contributed to the governor's campaign.

Chief of staff Susan Kennedy received a $100,000 bonus as a reward for the time she devoted to Schwarzenegger's reelection bid, the governor's office said Friday. With that bonus, Kennedy has collected $323,500 in campaign and taxpayer money in her year as Schwarzenegger's top aide.

Schwarzenegger paid his communications director, Adam Mendelsohn, a bonus of $75,000 for his work on the campaign -- on top of his taxpayer-financed salary of $123,000. Separately, Mendelsohn earned $13,000 last year in campaign salary, bringing his total pay to $211,000.

Daniel Zingale, chief of staff to first lady Maria Shriver, received a $25,000 campaign bonus, supplementing his state salary of $123,000. And Clay Russell, the governor's personal assistant, was rewarded with a $48,000 bonus. That sum, coupled with a separate $20,000 campaign salary Russell received, boosted his compensation by 80%.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday January 23, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Governor's bonuses: An article in Saturday's California section about campaign bonuses Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is paying to certain aides reported that the bonus for Daniel Zingale, chief of staff to First Lady Maria Shriver, was $25,000. Zingale said it was $50,000.

The bonuses were paid in December -- a month after Schwarzenegger won a second term by defeating Democratic candidate Phil Angelides. In each case, the aides who got bonuses are those who spend the most time with the governor and first lady, or are personal favorites.

Kennedy and Mendelsohn are two of a small number of aides welcome to see the governor without an appointment. Russell is constantly at Schwarzenegger's side. Zingale is gaining influence, having recently been named a special advisor to the governor in addition to his role as Shriver's confidant.

Julie Soderlund, a spokeswoman for Schwarzenegger, said that all four deserved the money, having put in considerable campaign work on their own time. Now that the campaign is over, no Schwarzenegger aide will be paid anything beyond a straight government salary, Soderlund said.

"Adam, Susan, Clay and Daniel -- in addition to working full time in their state jobs -- dedicated a tremendous amount of time to the campaign, in terms of coming in in the mornings before work, in the evenings after work, and on the weekends. And this is compensation for that time," she said.

Schwarzenegger's practice of boosting the salaries of his most valued aides appears to be rare. A survey of the 10 largest states after California showed that nine don't allow it. Of this group, only Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry uses campaign money to compensate state aides for political work on their own time.

A spokeswoman for Democratic Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania said that her boss insists on a strict separation between state and campaign work.

"You can't have staffers bowing to two gods," said Kate Phillips, Rendell's spokeswoman. Rendell "never wants someone to be in a situation where they might feel compromised or their role is unclear."

"Rendell staffers," she added, "don't enjoy that perk."

Because of the level of campaign pay she has received, Kennedy's compensation now comes primarily from the special interests that pay into Schwarzenegger's campaign fund. Her state salary is $131,000; the campaign money amounts to $192,500.

Watchdog groups said the practice is troubling. A government aide's allegiance should be to the California taxpayers, they contend. If the bulk of one's pay comes from private interests, loyalties can be misplaced, they say.

"Public officials who are making public decisions should not be receiving money from campaign contributors who are private entities with their own special interests, biases and motivations that are quite apart from the public interest," said Robert Fellmeth, professor of public interest law at the University of San Diego law school. "The dividing line between private and public is something that some people -- including the governor -- don't understand. It's the most important check we have -- more important than the judicial, executive and legislative check. It's the check between public and private."

A voracious fundraiser, Schwarzenegger has collected more than $114 million in campaign funds since he entered the recall campaign in 2003.

The largest sum has come from banks and financial firms, which have given nearly $18 million. Real estate and construction firms have contributed about $17 million, state records show. The entertainment industry has kicked in more than $12 million; high-tech firms more than $7 million; insurers nearly $5 million; and agriculture interests, $4 million.

Many of these industries maintain an active lobbying presence in Sacramento, seeking favorable regulatory rulings or executive action from the governor.

In recent months, Schwarzenegger has rankled some corporations, announcing plans to curb global warming and expand healthcare coverage through an assessment on doctors, hospitals and businesses.

But historically, the governor has been a reliable friend of business. Last year the Chamber of Commerce, the state's leading business lobbying group, put out a list of "job-killer bills" it wanted vetoed. Schwarzenegger followed the chamber's recommendation 82% of the time.

No matter how they are paid, each of the governor's aides can be trusted to act in the public interest, said Soderlund, the governor's spokeswoman.

"Ultimately, each of these individuals is working for the governor's vision and on behalf of the governor," she said.

*

peter.nicholas@latimes.com

Times staff writer Dan Morain contributed to this report.

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