Copyright 2004, Sacramento Bee
Governor makes time for contributors
(Sacramento Bee 12/23/04) — A year’s worth of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office calendars released Wednesday paints a picture of a chief executive who meets regularly with corporate campaign donors and some of the “special interests” he routinely rips, but also devotes an unusual amount of his time to using the media to sell his message.
With its 350-page release, the administration sought credit for being the first to make such information public since a 1991 California Supreme Court case that has limited newspapers’ access to what justices called government’s “deliberative process.” First Amendment advocates said they were pleased Schwarzenegger is taking steps to broaden public access to government as he promised on the campaign trail last year.
At the same time, the calendars suggest that Schwarzenegger is perpetuating the very system he swore to tear down, one that rewards campaign donors and powerful special-interest groups with access to the administration.
The records show the Republican governor met on several occasions with negotiators for labor unions, Indian gaming tribes and at least once with a coalition of environmental advocates. But those sit-downs were far outpaced by scheduled meetings with corporate officials, many of them campaign contributors with policy agendas.
Car dealers and agriculture leaders, who collectively have donated well over $1 million to the governor, got private meetings. So did officials from Grimmway Farms, which gave $123,000, and the CEO of Safeway, who gave $81,380 in individual and corporate money.
Last January, Zenith Insurance Chairman Stanley Zax was scheduled for a private meeting with Schwarzenegger an hour after a larger workers’ compensation stakeholders meeting. Two days later, records show, Zax gave one of Schwarzenegger’s campaign committees $100,000.
Schwarzenegger ushered through a package of changes to workers’ compensation law later in the year that protected insurers from mandatory rate decreases even as they sought to lower costs to employers. Zax could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The calendars also show Target CEO Bob Ulrich meeting with the governor in August, just before the annual bill-signing period. State disclosure forms show that during this time Target was lobbying the administration to reject trucking legislation, which Schwarzenegger ultimately vetoed.
To date, Target has contributed at least $230,000 to Schwarzenegger committees, records show, including $10,000 during the bill-signing period. Ulrich also could not be reached for comment.
Not everyone who had a meeting with Schwarzenegger got his way. Executives from Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric, who also donated early on, got meetings with Schwarzenegger, but he vetoed utility legislation they supported.
Schwarzenegger and his aides have repeatedly denied any connection between the governor’s fund raising and policy-making. They also have pointed out that throughout his first year in office, the governor was raising money through his California Recovery Team for a number of ballot initiatives that businesses supported independent of their individual concerns.
Press secretary Margita Thompson said Schwarzenegger’s calendar shows that “he’s busy being the governor of the state” and working “to further the people’s agenda.”
The calendars paint an incomplete picture, however, of who sees Schwarzenegger how often and what they talk about.
Month after month, the governor’s calendars refer loosely to briefings on energy policy, but these entries often don’t detail who was there.
The calendars are vague as to which independent energy and liquefied natural gas interests met with Schwarzenegger; some are represented by his political consultant, Mike Murphy, who has been criticized for using his ties to the governor to attract corporate business. While Murphy and the governor meet and speak often, Murphy is not mentioned by name in calendar appointments.
There are countless notations of “staff time,” for instance, with no indication of topic. The schedules show 75 “private day” listings – mostly weekends – even though Schwarzenegger is known to often hold meetings at his Los Angeles home and elsewhere that don’t appear on his official calendar.
On many of the pages released, there may be one or two meetings listed – with the rest of the day blank. Other days list repeated media sessions, including more than four hours of interviews and photo shoots for the current cover of Vanity Fair magazine.
“The public records act only covers formal meetings, and he’s adept at having casual encounters that don’t count,” said Barbara O’Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and the Media at California State University, Sacramento.
Past governors have refused to make even their partial calendars available, citing a 1991 state Supreme Court ruling that said they’re part of government’s “deliberative process” and not covered by public records laws.
“A door that has been double-locked for over a decade in California has now been pried open at least a crack,” said Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition.
Schwarzenegger’s office released the calendars after Scheer’s group made a formal public records act request following the November election, in which 83 percent of California voters approved Proposition 59. The measure didn’t require release of the calendars, but it seeks to make it more difficult for officials to withhold such records.
The calendars were released to Sheer’s group and several newspapers, including The Bee, that had also requested them.
Legal Affairs Secretary Peter Siggins said personal information was deleted, as was anything regarding personnel matters, the governor’s security or his travel itinerary. In the future, Schwarzenegger’s office will make his schedule available every two weeks.
Scheer said the act of releasing the calendars might ultimately prove to be more meaningful than what’s in them.
“Symbolically, this is a hugely important step because it shows every government official in the state of California that the governor takes very seriously his obligations under our open-government laws,” Scheer said.
“I think every lower-level official throughout the state – every mayor, every school superintendent, every school board member – is going to be hard-pressed to withhold the kind of information that Gov. Schwarzenegger has turned over.”
By Gary Delsohn and Margaret Talev