Governor opens his Brentwood home to deep-pocket donors

Times Staff Writer

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, are selling admission to private cocktail receptions and dinner at their Brentwood house to donors who give as much as $250,000 to the governor’s main political fund.

The fund’s executive committee recently distributed a five-page letter to potential donors inviting them to an April 25 cocktail party at the Mandeville Canyon mansion. Another June 6 reception and dinner is planned for those who contribute either $100,000 or $250,000 to the tax-exempt account, called the California Recovery Team.

The biggest donors are being invited to four additional private meetings with Schwarzenegger, according to the invitation. “Members will also be included in regular conference calls with the governor and leading and well-known Californians from the public and private sector,” the invitation says.


Julie Soderlund, the governor’s campaign committee spokeswoman, said the private meetings are a chance for the governor to “present his vision for California, not the other way around.... He believes it’s important to communicate his vision, whether it’s to larger groups or this group.”

In the past, Schwarzenegger has said he never talks about specific bills or regulatory action with donors, and that he frequently grants access to people who never contribute.

But Robert M. Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies, said the donations being requested are “staggering,” and clearly open doors that are closed to ordinary people. He said such large donors are likely “going to get immediate access” if they have a problem with government.

“It has to be worthwhile for people to go,” Stern said about the dinner and receptions. “I don’t think people are going to pay $250,000 just to listen to the governor.... If I pay $250,000 and I call the governor up, I am going to get a call from him or his chief of staff or a person who has to deal with my problem.”

The governor’s aides said Schwarzenegger and Shriver have invited public officials to the $11.9-million, 11-bathroom house for policy meetings and socializing, and held “donor events” there in 2006.

With the new parties, Schwarzenegger is creating two levels of donors, each with special access.

The highest level, the Executive Committee, costs donors $100,000 or $250,000 and includes the two receptions, the dinner, four private meetings and “regular” conference calls. A lower-level Advisory Committee designation costs $25,000 or $50,000, and includes the April 25 reception at the Brentwood home, conference calls and meetings with Schwarzenegger.

In return for a $250,000 donation, so-called Founding Members “will be given the opportunity to host” Schwarzenegger at the location of their choice for a private meeting with other donors, according to the invitation. Another event in the fall is being planned for the biggest donors and will include an unnamed “VIP guest.”

The June 6 fundraiser appears to contradict Schwarzenegger’s stated desire to ban fundraising while he is negotiating with the Legislature on the multibillion-dollar state budget. June is a heated month for those negotiations, with scores of lobbyists and other political contributors seeking favors from the administration and lawmakers.

“Everyone is in there, everyone is trying to get influence,” Schwarzenegger said, describing budget talks recently on a trip to Washington, D.C. “And then they do fundraisers at night. At 5 o’clock, they are in the Capitol, and two hours later, they’re doing fundraisers. If you don’t link those two together, it’s a little bit obvious.”

In the past, Schwarzenegger has said he would abide by new fundraising restrictions when the law required them for everyone, including the Legislature.

The California Recovery Team is not subject to state contribution caps. It allows Schwarzenegger to collect unlimited donations as long as he uses the money for “legislative advocacy” or to promote ballot measures.

The governor won reelection four months ago, but he still has considerable expenses. One of the biggest is private jets, which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to lease. The California Recovery Team can pay those costs if Schwarzenegger is traveling to places where he is talking about his legislative agenda.

Four board members run the California Recovery Team. They are Steve Schmidt, who was the governor’s campaign manager last year; Donna Lucas, a longtime political consultant and former Shriver aide; Gary Hunt, a former Irvine Co. executive and Sacramento political strategist; and Duf Sundheim, former chairman of the California Republican Party.


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