All 14 Republican state senators have called on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to replace Hollywood producer Rob Reiner on a commission the filmmaker helped found -- and Reiner flatly rejected the suggestion Tuesday.
A letter to Schwarzenegger signed by the Republicans accused Reiner, a Democrat, of using his position as chairman of the First 5 California Children and Families Commission to further a political goal: winning passage of Proposition 82, an initiative on the June ballot that would create universal preschool.
The commission used public funds for an ad campaign touting the benefits of preschool at the same time Reiner launched the political effort for Proposition 82.
“We have a duty and responsibility to the people of California to ensure that taxpayer funds are used in the appropriate manner,” said the letter, written by Sen. Dave Cox (R-Fair Oaks) and dated March 1. “Mr. Reiner’s activities, in our judgment, disqualify him from continuing to serve.”
Speaking to the Sacramento Press Club on Tuesday, Reiner said: “Should I resign? Of course not. Everything I have done is completely legal.”
Former Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, appointed Reiner as First 5 chairman in 1999. Reiner’s term has expired, and Schwarzenegger, a Republican, could replace him. Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Margita Thompson said in a statement Tuesday that the governor has not focused on Reiner’s status.
In a March 5 interview, Schwarzenegger declined to say whether he would appoint a replacement. But the governor said the ads’ timing “definitely gave the appearance that it was the taxpayers’ money used in order to set up the circumstances in such a way that when the signature gathering begins, everyone is favorable to his idea.”
In 2002, before becoming governor, Schwarzenegger donated $5,000 to a nonprofit charity that Reiner founded to promote early childhood issues. Reiner, in turn, donated $5,000 to Schwarzenegger’s 2002 initiative, Proposition 49, to create after-school programs.
Reiner last month took a temporary leave as chairman of First 5 while he campaigns for Proposition 82. The measure would raise the income taxes of wealthy Californians by $2.4 billion to fund preschool for all of the state’s 4-year-olds.
He took the leave after The Times detailed First 5’s $23-million preschool ad campaign, and $230 million in contracts awarded to advertising and public relations firms that helped Reiner pass Proposition 10, the 1998 initiative that created the First 5.
“This is not about me. This is about 4-year-olds,” Reiner said, insisting that First 5 has followed all laws. Saying he welcomed an inquiry planned by the Bureau of State Audits, Reiner added: “If there is anything wrong, it will all come out.”
The audit will attempt to determine whether there was any connection between the Yes on 82 campaign and the tax-funded ad blitz promoting preschool. The ads aired from November through mid-January, when Reiner was collecting signatures to qualify Proposition 82 for the ballot and preparing for the coming campaign.
Proposition 82 would give the state superintendent of public instruction power to oversee preschools. It also would create a commission, headed by the state controller, to help oversee preschools.
Reiner said Tuesday he had “no plans” to serve on a Proposition 82 commission. “I want it to succeed,” Reiner said of Proposition 82. “But I have no plans to take any formal position, and nobody has asked me.”
Reiner recused himself last year from decisions related to the tax-funded ad campaign. On Tuesday, he said he was unaware of memos and other documents dating to 2002 that said public attitudes needed to be changed to persuade people to support universal preschool.
In one 2004 document, Santa Monica consulting firm GMMB, which produced the First 5 ads, described the “target audience” as people who generally don’t support government-funded preschool, including middle- and upper-income Californians “and people with no children in the house.”
“These are the groups that are most likely to be persuaded by the message that all of society stands to benefit from ‘Preschool for All,’ ” the firm said, describing its vision for the ad campaign.
The commercials’ theme was that children who went to preschool were less likely later to drop out of school or commit crimes.
Reiner said the goal of the ads was to inform the public about programs already funded by First 5 and the $600 million raised annually by a tobacco tax hike imposed by Proposition 10.
Meanwhile, Roy Behr, the GMMB executive who oversaw the ads, has left the firm, a subsidiary of Fleishman-Hillard Inc.