The identities of previously anonymous donors who have financed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s national and international travel to the tune of $2 million are now being disclosed for the first time.
New donations to the California State Protocol Foundation – a non-profit which was established in March 2004 to “advise the Governor and First Lady of California on international, diplomatic and consular matters,” according to its Web site — were posted on the governor’s Web site, as required by new regulations adopted by the Fair Political Practices Commission in June.
Since the protocol foundation was established in 2004, government watchdogs have blasted the foundation for not revealing its donor list. But some of the group’s donors were revealed after the foundation ponied up money for the governor and his staff to travel to the recent Border Governors Conference in Los Angeles.
“I’m really excited that this information is out there. But the information reveals what we always thought was the case,” said Consumer Watchdog’s Camern Balber. “Before it was secret, and we were worried that companies were paying to influence the administration. Now it’s public, and we can see that companies are paying to influence the administration.”
That suggestion was dismissed by Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear, who said "the govenror has always supported transparency laws, and welcomes these new reporting requirements." McLear said donors give to the governor "because they believe in his vision for the state," and know they cannot buy the governor's vote through political contributions.
The foundation reported a $50,000 contribution from the University of Phoenix, and $25,000 each from the California Conference of Carpenters, the Capstone Turbine Corporation, the California State Council of Laborers and Western Union. Additional $10,000 donations were received from AOL, Anheuser Busch and the Alliance of Auto Manufacturers.
The contributions were all made on August 12, in the midst of the budget standoff, and as the Legislature was considering hundreds of bills to send to the governor. Many of those donors had major legislation pending at the time of their donations.
According to records with the Secretary of state’s office, AOL was engaged on a dozen bills, including a number of different tax bills and privacy legislation by Sen. Joe Simitian.
The Alliance of Auto Manufacturers lobbied on a number of environmental measures, and was engaged in discussions over Darrell Steinberg’s SB 375, which seeks to limit automobile use. The University of Phoenix lobbied on a half a dozen bills, including one that would effect their schools' ability to license marriage therapists and a bill by Don Perata that changes the way the school would be regulated. Western Union lobbied on a budget issue that dealt with money transmitter fees.
The donations to the CSPF are not subject to state political contribution limits and are tax deductible. In all, $180,000 was raised by the foundation to pay for the Border Governors Conference.
“It’s hard for me to see the connection between those donors and the border governors' conference,” Balber said. “The revelation of the donors to the foundation just confirms what we’ve been saying all along – that comapnies are giving to this found to benefit the governor in order to curry favor, and those donations should be not only reported, but restricted.”
The governor’s office reported spending more than $36,000 on airfare, lodging and other expenses to send staff to the conference. According to the documents, 41 members of the governor’s staff made the trip, including Cabinet Secretary Dan Dunmoyer, senior adviser Daniel Zingale and the governor’s communications director, Matt David.
GE, the parent company of Universal Studios, which hosted the conference, also gave about $150,000 in contributions for conference events and entertainment, according to reports.
According to the foundation’s federal filings, it raised more than $1.1 million in 2006. The foundation’s stated mission is to “lessen the burden of government by providing resources for the state of California to promote California in foreign countries as a place to do business,” according to the filing.
The foundation has also providing major funding for a reception following the governor’s State of the State address, and more than $320,000 for “protocol projets and events at the State Capitol.”
Allan Zaremberg, president of the California Chamber of Commerce, is listed as the foundation’s president. Other members of the foundation’s board of directors include Bill Hauck, who spearheaded the governor's California Performance Review, and Charlotte Shultz, wife of former Secretary of State George Schultz.
None of the directors receive compensation for their participation on the board.
FPPC executive director Roman Porter said the new disclosures have been in the works for months. “We’ve been looking at gifts generally and questioning whether we needed to make changes” in the way they were reported, Porter said.
The FPPC is considering new regulations to close a loophole in the regulations “by which personal benefits can be passed along to individuals through the agency, without reporting by the official,” according to an FPPC memorandum.