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Once-Critical Governor to Launch Fundraising Tour

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Times Staff Writer

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is embarking on a whirlwind, 17-event fundraising tour from here to Boston, tapping donors who have a stake in bills soon to arrive at his desk for signature or veto.

The events come at the end of the legislative session, when past governors and most legislators traditionally have raised money. But Schwarzenegger, who has raised $22 million so far this year, has criticized the practice.

The fundraisers offer contributors a chance to sit with Schwarzenegger at a Rolling Stones concert Sunday at Fenway Park in Boston, and to watch a pennant-race baseball game between the Angels and Oakland A’s in Anaheim later this month.

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In the quest for cash to finance his campaign for the special election he called, the governor plans to appear Friday at a Lake Tahoe fundraiser hosted by, among others, philanthropist and former junk bond king Michael Milken. From there, he is set to jet to New Jersey for a Saturday barbecue to boost his fortunes and those of New Jersey Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Forrester.

Schwarzenegger will be collecting campaign money from individuals and entities that have major Capitol lobby operations and are embroiled in legislative battles.

Mortgage lender Ameriquest Capital Corp., which had been among Gov. Gray Davis’ largest donors, is donating a block of 40 tickets to the Stones’ concert for the governor’s donors. Ameriquest has been lobbying on at least eight bills in recent weeks; the company and its principals have donated more than $1.5 million to Schwarzenegger’s campaigns.

Arte Moreno, owner of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, intends to co-host the baseball-game fundraiser later this month. He opposes a bill by Assemblyman Tom Umberg (D-Anaheim) that would force the Angels to revert to the team’s previous name -- the Anaheim Angels.

“I’m shocked, absolutely shocked, just like Capt. Renault in ‘Casablanca,’ that he would be going to a fundraiser at the same time legislation is pending,” Umberg said sarcastically.

Umberg said he might invite Schwarzenegger to stop by his office when he is in Anaheim, to meet with local supporters of the legislation, though he had little hope that the governor would do so. Tim Mead, communications director for the Angels, said the goal of the fundraiser is to spend “a little more outreach time with the political community.”

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“I assure you it has nothing to do with the Umberg bill,” Mead said.

The Legislature is deciding whether to send this year’s final 830 bills to Schwarzenegger, who will determine whether to sign or veto those that reach his desk.

Schwarzenegger’s decision to appear at the events marks a reversal from last year, when the governor’s aides made a point of saying that he would steer clear of end-of-session fundraisers.

Early in his tenure, Schwarzenegger had proposed a “black-out” period barring fundraising when the Legislature was in session. He and other Republicans criticized his predecessor, Davis, for holding fundraisers at the end of legislative sessions when governors decide what bills should become law.

“We’re in the middle of a campaign and we have to raise money,” said Marty Wilson, one of the governor’s top political aides.

Wilson said Schwarzenegger could gather $5 million from the 17 events. “We’re very clear with our donors. If people are making inappropriate comment and try to lobby the governor, they will get their contributions returned.”

For Garry South, who was Davis’ chief political consultant and now works for Controller Steve Westly in his bid to unseat Schwarzenegger, such comments sound familiar. A few years back, he defended Davis against attacks over fundraising during bill-signing season.

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“I would like to think Arnold is smart enough to have learned from our mistakes,” South said. “But nothing I’ve seen suggests he has.”

John J. Pitney Jr., professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and a Republican, dismissed critics of the governor’s fundraising, saying, “Rumor has it” Democrats “raise money too, pretty much all the time.”

“It costs a lot of money to mount a ballot campaign,” Pitney said. “It is inevitable that the governor is going to be raising money.”

Schwarzenegger’s fundraising team announced the 17 events in a memo dated Aug. 10 to “friends of Gov. Schwarzenegger.” The money will be used to pay for the campaign for three initiatives the governor endorses on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The proposals would give governors more power over the state budget, make it harder for teachers to obtain tenure and authorize judges rather than legislators to draw the boundaries of California’s voting districts.

“These final weeks are critical,” the pitch says. “Your participation and the participation of those you know will make a difference.”

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The blitz opens today in San Bernardino. The fundraiser is expected to generate $250,000 for Schwarzenegger’s initiative campaigns.

“The changes he wants to make are important,” said Cliff Cummings, owner of Toyota of San Bernardino, who is hosting the event along with construction company owner Martin Matich and Arrowhead Credit Union Chairman Larry Sharp. The three have given Schwarzenegger $210,000 since the 2003 recall campaign in which he ousted Davis.

The California Restaurant Assn. is hosting a “salute” to Schwarzenegger on Monday in Los Angeles. A restaurant lobbyist testified Tuesday before a legislative committee against universal testing of cattle for mad-cow disease. Among the bills that lawmakers are closing in on are several aimed at combating mad-cow disease; one stalled Tuesday in the committee where the lobbyist testified.

Sacramento-area developer Steven A. Gidaro is among the hosts of an event Thursday at the exclusive Sutter Club in Sacramento. Gidaro is giving $25,000, which entitles him to two tickets and preferred dinner seating.

Gidaro is part of a group of investors that owns 17,000 acres of farmland and open space near Sacramento. The group is battling legislation that would open the way for neighboring Yolo County to buy and preserve the land.

“There is nothing unusual about fundraisers at the end of session,” said Assemblywoman Lois Wolk (D-Davis), whose bill Gidaro is battling. “But Gidaro’s involvement should raise eyebrows. He has one purpose and one purpose only -- and that is to kill my bill.”

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Among Gidaro’s consultants is Wilson -- who is a Schwarzenegger fundraiser as well as political aide. Wilson said he had no idea what Schwarzenegger would do if Wolk’s bill were to reach his desk, and he doubted that the governor was aware that he represents Gidaro.

California Nurses Assn. Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro said she would be organizing protests at most of the events, including the one at Fenway Park. DeMoro, whose union has protested at many Schwarzenegger events, said the governor was “completely addicted to fundraising.”

“He is bringing even greater disgrace to the political process,” DeMoro said.

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