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Campaign aides cash in on state jobs

Members of the governor's reelection staff get government jobs and big raises. A watchdog group questions the practice.

March 05, 2007|Jordan Rau | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, once a critic of patronage in government, has rewarded 29 aides from his reelection campaign with state jobs, promotions and hefty raises.

Jeffrey Wyly left the state labor agency last spring to work for the governor's reelection. After Schwarzenegger won, Wyly returned to the agency with a promotion and a $20,304 raise.

At 26, Wyly is now paid $75,000 a year -- a 37% bump -- to help enact Schwarzenegger's labor agenda.

Administration staffers from the governor's first term who were employed by Californians for Schwarzenegger in 2006 today earn an average 27% more than they did in January 2006. That is 8 percentage points more than the average salary increase given to aides who were never employed by the campaign, state payroll records show.

Many campaign staffers hired into the administration for the first time are in their 20s and had no previous experience in government. Most are working in the governor's office, but a few hold senior agency jobs overseeing business regulation and the Motor Vehicles Department.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday March 06, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 49 words Type of Material: Correction
Schwarzenegger campaign aides: An article in Monday's California section about pay raises given by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to some of his campaign aides stated that California disposes of 88 tons of trash and waste each year. The state disposes of 88 million tons of trash and waste each year.

The annual salaries of these new and returning aides total $1.5 million. How much the former campaign staff permeates the administration is unclear; in six cases, the governor's office diverged from its usual practice of announcing all hires.

Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said that all the new administration employees were "the best of the best" and that those who received raises deserved them because of the skills they honed.

"They went to the campaign, they got more experience and expertise and, on the other end of the campaign, they're more marketable and can command higher salaries," McLear said.

"They got greater responsibilities" when they returned to the state, he said, "and their salaries are commensurate with their responsibilities."

Wyly and other staffers did not respond to requests for interviews.

Some government watchdogs expressed concern that the hirings and raises could be an inappropriate way to compensate political workers.

"There is a risk that the raises are public subsidies for a job well done on the 2006 campaign, with taxpayers picking up the tab for what otherwise should be campaign expenses," said Ned Wigglesworth, the policy advocate for California Common Cause, a nonpartisan watchdog group.

There is nothing novel about politicians hiring their former campaign workers. Both of the governor's most recent predecessors, Democrat Gray Davis and Republican Pete Wilson, did the same thing. And some of the biggest raises and promotions in Schwarzenegger's office -- more than 100% increases for four lower-level employees -- went to staffers who did not work on the campaign.

But Schwarzenegger came into office opposed to patronage in government. He proposed abolishing more than 1,000 political appointments on state boards and commissions. The plan was rejected by the Democratic-led Legislature.

Schwarzenegger has stopped expressing such concerns. And he recently appointed his outgoing Cabinet secretary, Fred Aguiar, to a $123,987 seat on the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. He also gave one of his speechwriters, Scott Matthew Cox, a $93,500 job as an advisor to the Integrated Waste Management Board. Cox provides the board, which promotes environmentally friendly disposal of California's 88 annual tons of trash and waste, with advice on regulatory issues and policy.

Neither assisted the reelection campaign, but many of the biggest promotions went to those who did.

Margaret Fortune, originally an education and public affairs advisor to Schwarzenegger, left her $100,008-a-year-job in the governor's office for the campaign in August, to help with outreach to African American voters. In December, she was rehired on the public payroll as a senior advisor on education and urban policy.

Fortune now earns $33,720 more than she did a year ago. An announcement listing her qualifications for the new appointment and touting her "more than a decade of government experience" did not mention her role in the campaign, for which she was paid $32,776 as a consultant.

Some former campaign workers landed far from the governor's office, though they are still in government jobs.

Louis Stewart, a technology expert, moved to Californians for Schwarzenegger from an air freight company, where he was director of marketing and business diversity. After the election, Schwarzenegger appointed Stewart, 35, as special advisor to the director of the Department of Motor Vehicles; he focuses on security and technology issues and is paid $90,000 annually.

Heather Peters, a lawyer and owner of a Santa Monica mediation firm, was a regional political director for the campaign. Schwarzenegger made her deputy secretary of business regulation for the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency. Peters, 41, earns $85,000.

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