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Schwarzenegger fundraising a puzzler

What could California's governor have in mind with upcoming contribution opportunities?

May 12, 2010

The signs of the season are all around us. First, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will release his "May revise" budget on Friday, and then, on Tuesday, he'll rake in money from rich contributors at a party in his Brentwood home.

Now why would Schwarzenegger want to have a big fundraising party when he's ready to begin budget negotiations? Seems like kind of a busy time to be tidying up the house. And why would he want to raise money now? After all, he's termed out, and he's not running for another office, at least not that he's told anyone about.

And, really, why would people want to pay $50,000 a pop to hang out with him at this particular time? It almost looks as if they want to curry favor with the governor, pressing for tax breaks or asking for favorite programs to be spared. And if Schwarzenegger isn't careful, he could end up giving the impression that he wants to use that money, raised during the crucial budget season, as leverage to coax members of the Legislature to vote his way. "I think you'll see the budget as I do," a lawmaker might imagine the well-funded governor saying, "especially if you want me to support you financially when you run for reelection next year — or at least if you don't want me to support your opponent."

But that can't be. Schwarzenegger has made it clear that he opposes political fundraising during especially sensitive periods, such as the weeks in which budgets are being hammered out and the weeks in which he has hundreds of bills to sign or veto. He was elected to office after railing against business as usual in Sacramento. You remember the statement: "Here's how it works: Money comes in, favors go out. The people lose."

It's really quite confusing, but there it is: Times staff writer Shane Goldmacher reported that the governor has in fact scheduled a big fundraiser at his home for Tuesday, and then a lower-rent affair in Sacramento the following Monday. Those who don't want to spring for the $50,000 in Brentwood can still smoke a cigar with Schwarzenegger the next week for just $25,000. There are also bargain-basement opportunities for $10,000 and, for the paupers, $5,000.

What would the governor do with all that money? Last year, he raised a bunch of cash to campaign in favor of five ballot measures, several of which would have prolonged temporary tax increases. Then, that election lost, he spent more on a no-new-taxes campaign. It's almost as if he doesn't know or care what he wants, as long as he gets to play the game.

But no, that can't be, either. He's the governor. He came to Sacramento to change how the system works. Raising money from special interests, at budget time, merely in pursuit of winning? That would be wrong.

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