Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's drive to raise tens of millions of dollars for his reelection has set off a backlash by organized labor, with unions trying to ensure that his hunt for money remains a prime source of political trouble.
In Beverly Hills on Monday, unions held their first major protest of the year against the Republican governor's collection of campaign money. About 200 nurses, bus drivers, school clerks and other union members marched outside a private Schwarzenegger reception and dinner for donors, who paid up to $100,000 for seats near the governor and his guest speaker, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
As Schwarzenegger was ensconced with top supporters inside the Beverly Hilton, sign-waving protesters shouted from the sidewalks outside at rush-hour traffic on Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards.
"Money in, favors out, that's what Arnold's all about!" they yelled.
Just before the dinner, police ejected several dozen nurses from the hotel lobby as they shouted "Shame on Arnold!" and "Stop the corruption!"
The scenes were similar to the dozens of protests that organized labor held last year during its successful battle to kill Schwarzenegger's November ballot initiatives. This year, of course, the target is his reelection.
The unions' core message on Monday -- that Schwarzenegger broke his campaign pledge to shun special-interest money -- is part of a broader effort by labor and its Democratic allies to cast the governor as a standard politician who fails to keep his word.
"He said he wasn't going to take special-interest money, and then this fundraiser flies in the face of everything he said he would be," said Robin Swanson, a spokeswoman for the Alliance for a Better California, the union coalition formed last year to fight Schwarzenegger's ballot measures.
Schwarzenegger allies say he has no choice but to hold big-money fundraisers when Democrats and unions are preparing to spend tens of millions of dollars to oust him in November.
"I don't think there's any question that this year the Democrats will raise and spend more than the governor, but this is what he needs to be competitive," state Republican Chairman Duf Sundheim said in the hotel lobby as Schwarzenegger aides scurried to make final preparations for the McCain dinner.
Incumbents seeking reelection regularly face accusations of trading government favors for campaign money, and voters often dismiss them as nothing unusual. For Schwarzenegger, a bigger problem is the charge that his acceptance of special-interest money fits a pattern of promising one thing -- in this case to refuse such donations -- and doing another, said Thad Kousser, an assistant political science professor at UC San Diego.
"When politicians change positions, that becomes not just a policy issue, but a character issue, and that becomes a very effective critique," he said.
A former top Schwarzenegger advisor has told business leaders that the governor is trying to raise $120 million for the November election, much of it for the state Republican Party. Schwarzenegger has refuted that figure, and aides now say his goal for the year is $75 million.
Whatever the target, his schedule in the weeks ahead includes a long roster of events to gather campaign money from donors, many of whom have a stake in decisions he makes as governor.
Schwarzenegger has fundraisers planned this week in Pebble Beach and Dana Point, then next week in Palm Desert, San Diego and Riverside. He also has events coming up in San Francisco, Sacramento and Newport Beach, as well as in Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C.
Schwarzenegger's fund-raising this year has far outpaced that of the two major Democrats running for governor in the June primary. He had collected at least $5.2 million by Friday, state reports show. One of the Democrats, state Treasurer Phil Angelides, had raised just under $2 million by then, and the other, Controller Steve Westly, had collected $3.4 million, including $2.5 million of his own money.
Katie Levinson, communications director of Schwarzenegger's reelection campaign, noted that political efforts are inherently expensive.
"The governor will continue to speak directly to Californians about his efforts to move the state forward, and he will raise the funds necessary to get a positive message out," she said.
As for the charge that Schwarzenegger fails to keep his word, she said: "The governor has a history of accomplishments while in office and is proud of his record, and of getting the state back on the right track."
The Beverly Hilton protest was not remarkable in its size. Schwarzenegger, who rode by the protest, a cigar in his mouth, in the front passenger seat of a large black sport utility vehicle, has been the target of much larger demonstrations.
Nonetheless, it produced images unfavorable to Schwarzenegger for the half-dozen television news stations that covered it.
Times staff writers Dan Morain and Hemmy So contributed to this report.