Reporting from Sacramento — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has crusaded against state officials' practice of raising money during budget season, will open his Brentwood mansion to his biggest contributors — again — days after he releases his revised spending plan.
A $50,000 donation will buy a contributor a single ticket to the soiree at his and Maria Shriver's home and a chance, less than a week later, to chomp cigars with the celebrity governor in the capital. The initial event, scheduled for May 18, offers donors an opportunity to brush shoulders with the governor only four days after he details a budget plan that is expected to cut deeply into state services.
Lobbyists and interest groups are already gearing up for a summer battle to save their favored programs from the knife. Mike Herald, a lobbyist for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said the timing of the governor's fundraiser highlights the difference in access to the halls of power between the rich and the poor.
"The low-income folks who depend on state services aren't likely to be there — unless they're working," Herald said.
In years past, Schwarzenegger has proposed a ban on fundraising during budget-writing periods, but as those proposals have stalled in the Legislature, he has continued the practice.
Donors are being asked to contribute to a fund that Schwarzenegger uses to campaign for and against ballot measures. During last summer's budget standoff, he spent nearly $1 million from that account to buy television airtime for an ad opposing new taxes. Contributors are also being invited to give to a fund that supports Proposition 14 on the June 8 ballot, which would change how voters choose nominees in state and federal primary elections.
Adam Mendelsohn, the governor's political advisor, said Schwarzenegger still believes "there needs to be campaign finance reform" but will continue to follow existing law.
"The Legislature has just not taken it seriously," Mendelsohn said of the governor's calls to ban budget-time fundraising.
For those who can't afford the $50,000 dinner in Brentwood, Schwarzenegger is hosting a May 24 fundraiser at a rooftop Sacramento nightclub. A $25,000 donation buys a ticket to share a stogie with the governor. Donations of $5,000 and $10,000 come with a "photo opportunity" but no cigar, according to the invitation.
In each of the last four years, Schwarzenegger has either hosted his donors in his home or collected checks during budget season. In 2007, he outlined the pitfalls of the practice.
"We should not go and feel obligated that we have to give favors back to that person or to that company and so on," he said. "Because it doesn't work if you go and negotiate and work on the budget until 7 o'clock at night, and then at 7:30 you go to a fundraiser and simultaneously meet people that maybe have a stake in the budget."