About Schmidt: Gov.’s campaign manager pulls in $78,000 in just six weeks

After less than two months on the job, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign manager Steve Schmidt has been paid more than $78,000 in campaign funds. Schmidt received paychecks of $26,250 on February 17, March 3 and March 15. That puts Schmidt on pace to earn more than $470,000 during this year’s governor’s race. The figures come from public documents released this week by the secretary of state.

It’s unclear exactly what Schmidt’s salary is and whether the $26,250 payments will continue throughout the campaign. Top campaign managers and political consultants are typically handsomely rewarded for their services. But none appear to be quite as well compensated as Schmidt.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate and state Treasurer Phil Angelides’ campaign manager Cathy Calfo has received more than $215,000 in payments since she joined the Angelides campaign. But those payments date back to September 2004.

Angelides primary opponent, state Controller Steve Westly, has paid campaign manager Jude Barry $60,000, with another $10,000 going to Catapult Strategies, Barry’s consulting firm. Barry has been with the Westly campaign since April 2005.

Garry South, a top adviser to Westly, has been paid $130,000 by the Westly campaign since July 2005, with an additional $2,300 for travel, housing and food.

Both Democratic campaigns were quick to criticize Schmidt’s high salary.

“Schmidt knows Schwarzenegger is damaged goods, so I guess he feels justified in taking him to the cleaners,” said Angelides spokesman Brian Brokaw.

“It is an awful lot of money for someone who has never won a campaign in California,” added South. “I don’t begrudge him making the money but what kind of track record is that based upon. I guess he must be a real fast talker.”

The early payments to Schmidt can’t necessarily be extrapolated to an annual salary. A source close to the campaign said there was “a signing bonus component” to the salary figures. Signing bonuses are not unprecedented in political campaigns. But numerous Democratic and Republican political operatives said the practice of campaigns giving signing bonuses is uncommon in California.

“I’ve run five campaigns for U.S. Senate and governor,” said Democratic political consultant Darry Sragow. “I have never gotten a signing bonus and I have never given any other consultant a signing bonus.”

Sragow said the more common practice is a smaller salary and a bonus for winning in November.

“If, in fact, this is what Schmidt is being paid for the year, every consultant in California, irrespective of party affiliation, ought to form a line at the door to the Schwarzenegger campaign and see if we can get in on the deal,” Sragow added.

Gov. Schwarzenegger has a history of paying his political confidants well. This week, the Los Angeles Times reported that Gov. Schwarzenegger has spent more than $14 million on campaign consultants since 2003, including paying former “Terminator 3” stunt double Dieter Rauter $62,000 to use a hand-held digital camera to document Schwarzenegger’s legacy.

Schmidt has previously served as the communications director for Republican Matt Fong’s U.S. Senate campaign against incumbent Barbara Boxer in 1998.

More recently, Schmidt worked in Washington D.C. at the White House. In 2004, he worked with senior adviser Karl Rove as a top consultant for President Bush’s reelection campaign. He also has served as spokesman for vice president Dick Cheney and helped shepherd the nominations of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and Chief Justice through the U.S. Senate.

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