Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said today that he sees no need to tighten his administration’s gift policy, nor is he worried that some of his top aides have accepted thousands of dollars worth of meals, basketball playoff tickets and other items from special interests seeking access to his government.
In an interview on the last day of his trade mission here, Schwarzenegger said he was confident that his staff would not give favors in exchange for gifts and thus saw no reason to impose any bans.
Schwarzenegger has repeatedly decried the influence of special interests in Sacramento and promised to restore integrity to government.
To demonstrate a commitment to a more open administration, the governor also said in the interview that he would comply with a public-records request seeking access to his internal appointment calendars and schedules. California governors have typically kept such records secret, as has Schwarzenegger to this point in his one-year tenure.
In discussing his views on gifts, he said he had not considered the issue until he read a Times story Sunday detailing the practice.
“Those are the things that I don’t think anyone has to worry about,” the governor said. “There’s no one selling out in my administration.”
Schwarzenegger said he wouldn’t do a favor for Disney, for example, merely because he is close to CEO Michael Eisner or because the company has allowed his family free use of its amusement park. Lobbyist disclosure reports filed with the state show that some Schwarzenegger aides got free passes to Disneyland.
The governor said that “Eisner could ask me for a lot of things, and has in the past. But it wouldn’t be that I would do something for Disney because he gave someone a ticket.
“I’ve been going to Disneyland for free for the last 20 years with my family. As a matter of fact, they opened it up especially for us at 7 in the morning so I don’t have to do deal with the people. So there are a lot of favors like that. And I do favors back for them.”
Schwarzenegger defended his top legislative aide, Richard Costigan, a former California Chamber of Commerce lobbyist who has accepted two dozen meals, tickets and other gifts from various interests over the last year, according to lobbyist filings.
The governor said, “I’ve sat there with Costigan and I asked him sometimes questions where I knew the Chamber of Commerce was for vetoing that bill.... I say, what’s your opinion? And he says I think you should sign it. Many, many times and many bills like that. He knows what my philosophy is, which is not always with the Chamber of Commerce.”
He added: “I go with whatever I think is right, and I think the administration is doing the same thing. I’m not concerned about those things at all, no.”
State law allows officials to accept up to $340 in one calendar year from any one special interest. Former Gov. Gray Davis had a written policy making the threshold more restrictive. He directed appointees not to accept gifts from groups lobbying the administration on the grounds that the givers might expect something in return.
Schwarzenegger said he was amused to see in the Times’ article the reference to Davis, who was often criticized for his zealous fundraising practices.
“The whole thing is a great comedy,” the governor said. “I don’t take those things too seriously.”
He added: “It’s all a character issue. I have never done a favor for anyone. I will never do a favor.”
Schwarzenegger said he felt obliged to release his private schedules -- again in an effort to show the integrity of his administration.
In releasing those appointment logs, Schwarzenegger would be breaking from past practice. The Times had sued to obtain the daily, weekly and monthly calendars and schedules of former Gov. George Deukmejian. In a 4-3 vote in 1991, the state Supreme Court rejected the request, citing concerns that releasing material could jeopardize a governor’s security and interfere with government’s deliberative process.
The California First Amendment Coalition is seeking Schwarzenegger’s appointment logs, schedules and other records. When he read newspaper accounts of that request, Schwarzenegger said, he decided to comply.
Peter Scheer, executive director of the coalition, said that he was pleased with the governor’s decision and that he was “delighted that the response is a positive one.”
Schwarzenegger said his legal counsel was assembling the information, which could be released as early as next week. Schwarzenegger’s press office circulates a daily summary of the governor’s public schedule, which often consists of no more than a sentence or two stating that he spent the day in private meetings. There is no mention of the subject of the meetings or who attended.
In the Nov. 2 election, Schwarzenegger endorsed Proposition 59, which establishes a state constitutional right to government “writings.”
Having helped win passage of that measure, Schwarzenegger said he felt obliged to live by it.
“I have no secrets,” Schwarzenegger said.
On another matter, the governor said he may still push for a part-time Legislature next year, though he conceded that there was not a “serious plan” at present to make that happen.
“It comes up periodically and then I throw it into the fire just to keep it burning because it drives them nuts upstairs,” he said in a reference to the Legislature.