Gov.’s Top Aide to Woo Donors

Times Staff Writer

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is dispatching his newly appointed chief of staff to woo wealthy Republican donors for his reelection effort, injecting his most influential policy advisor into the job of collecting money for his campaign.

Susan Kennedy, once a top-level Democrat, will play a key role in the governor’s reelection bid, the administration confirmed Wednesday. She is being paid campaign funds in addition to her $131,000 government salary and will mix freely with influential contributors.

Campaign finance experts and legislative Democrats questioned why Kennedy -- the lead negotiator on major decisions in the Schwarzenegger administration -- would be allowed to attend private meetings with donors when many have business before the administration.


Paul S. Ryan, associate legal counsel at the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C., said allowing donors access to Kennedy creates “the appearance of corruption in California. If you are fortunate to afford the price of admission, then you automatically gain access that the vast majority of Californians do not have.”

Appointed last month to the highest-ranking position in the Schwarzenegger administration, Kennedy is a former Democratic Party executive and aide to former Gov. Gray Davis. She has nevertheless vowed loyalty to the Republican governor and his 2006 reelection effort.

California law allows her to attend fundraisers for the governor and work on his campaign, as long as she is doing it on her own time.

Under Davis, however, an informal rule prohibited staff members -- including Kennedy -- from attending any fundraisers, said Steve Maviglio, a former spokesman for Davis.

Schwarzenegger communications director Rob Stutzman said Kennedy would take vacation days to meet donors and work on the campaign, and would “absolutely” separate her policy job from the fundraising effort. He said that “her insight strategically on how the campaign will proceed will be invaluable.”

Maviglio, who now works for Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles), said Democrats see problems with Kennedy and other Schwarzenegger officials moving back and forth between policy discussions in the Capitol and meetings with donors. The governor’s former chief of staff, Patricia Clarey, took time off from her government job to serve as Schwarzenegger’s campaign manager last year.

A “Join Arnold 2006” memo sent to donors Tuesday outlines a conference call and a series of luncheons planned for Schwarzenegger and contributors. The meetings will include “briefings from senior campaign officials, including the governor’s chief of staff, Susan Kennedy,” according to the memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Times.

“The concern is that you are offering donors, in exchange for campaign contributions, access to a decision maker that the rest of us don’t have,” said Derek Cressman, founder of, a Sacramento nonprofit organization that monitors state and federal campaign finance laws.

Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center said contributors might benefit more from access to high-ranking aides than to the elected official hosting the fundraiser.

“The staff member often has more experience in a particular subject area than the elected official. The actions of that official are going to reflect the advice they get from the advisor,” he said.

Kennedy’s appointment last month shocked the political establishment. Conservative Republicans, already concerned that Schwarzenegger was drifting too far left, were appalled that he would hire the former abortion rights activist and Democratic political operative to help him run the government.

Stutzman said some Republicans were concerned that Kennedy would have access to secret financial information about the Republican Party. He said Kennedy would not be privy to that kind of information, but “she is absolutely going to know reelection strategy.”

The memo suggests that Schwarzenegger has begun his reelection fundraising effort in earnest, after tapping his donors for about $50 million last year in the unsuccessful special election campaign. The governor is expected to raise another $50 million for his reelection. His fundraising has already eclipsed that of Davis -- who was recalled from office in part because of perceived excesses in raising money.

Schwarzenegger’s political schedule with Kennedy is busy for the next few weeks. Planned for hotels and country clubs from Jan. 18 to Feb. 9, the eight meetings are known among campaign workers as “donor maintenance” events. The information dispensed is often cursory and broad, but the gatherings allow a donor access to the highest ranks of government.

Some Capitol interests, such as environmentalists and consumer groups, have complained in the past of not having direct access to the governor’s staff. But this month, lobbyists say, the administration has been more willing to reach out to non-donors, holding a series of meetings in the Capitol to outline the governor’s agenda.

The “Join Arnold 2006” briefings with Kennedy are being hosted by the top tier of the Schwarzenegger money machine. The memo was sent to potential donors by a group of 30 major supporters, such as former U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz and California Chamber of Commerce President Allan Zaremberg.

The hosts of the gatherings include some of California’s biggest developers, who could benefit from Schwarzenegger’s $222-billion proposal to rebuild the state’s overburdened freeways, schools, ports and waterways.

The Jan. 18 meeting is scheduled for the Island Hotel in Newport Beach and will be co-hosted by George L. Argyros and William Lyon, both major housing developers. Argyros is the former U.S. ambassador to Spain and a major donor to President Bush and the Republican Party.

The campaign has also arranged a Feb. 1 meeting at the Regency Club in Los Angeles, co-hosted by real estate developer Rick Caruso. Developer Alex Spanos, owner of the San Diego Chargers, is hosting a fundraising meeting the next day at the Sutter Club in Sacramento.

The memo shows that Schwarzenegger is linking his legislative agenda to the reelection effort this year. It mentions the rebuilding plan, which is now before the Legislature. Kennedy is leading negotiations to get the package through the Assembly and Senate, both controlled by Democrats.

“As the governor is fond of saying, he cannot do this job alone,” the campaign memo tells potential donors. “He is looking to us, California’s business leaders and the leaders in the communities where we live, work and raise our families to help him communicate his message to the voters during the 2006 election campaign.”

State law prohibits linking campaign contributions to specific governmental decisions. But the Political Reform Act of 1974 says nothing about barring elected officials and government aides from discussing policy at fundraising events, according to the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

Kennedy, who declined to comment, has been unapologetic in the past about her new loyalty to Schwarzenegger, a relationship that developed after a year of private meetings between the two. And she has acknowledged that politics would inevitably bleed into her policy job.

“Are there politics involved in legislative strategy? Absolutely,” Kennedy told The Times recently. “My job is to help Gov. Schwarzenegger, and I won’t hesitate for one second to do that. Obviously, that means helping people who support him in the Legislature.”