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Brown plans low-key, low-budget inaugural

It’ll be a little more upscale than the impromptu dinner at a Chinese restaurant where Jerry Brown celebrated his first swearing-in as California governor three decades ago — but maybe not by much.

Brown, who takes back the office on Jan. 3, won’t be holding an extravagant inaugural ball and raising eye-popping sums to fund it as the last few incoming governors have done. His party will be a decidedly modest affair.

Special interests eager to curry favor by dumping big money into an inaugural fund may be disappointed. A transition official said Brown won’t accept more than $5,000 from potential sponsors — some of whom gave 10 times that amount to bankroll the inaugural party when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was reelected.

“Our aim is a lean, frugal day of events,” said Brown spokesman Evan Westrup.

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Brown is scheduled to take the oath of office for a third time — a record achieved by only one other governor in California history — in a morning ceremony. He’ll then host a reception for friends, family and supporters at the California State Railroad Museum in the afternoon.

Brown has some experience with Spartan inaugurations. In 1975, he delivered a seven-minute inaugural address before heading to that Chinese meal in Los Angeles with friends. There was neither a ball nor a party.

Now, with California facing a $28-billion deficit, Brown is again thinking cheap. Two people involved in the discussions said Brown hoped to keep the budget to $100,000, though Westrup said a final budget for the event had not been set.

“In historical and comparative terms, this will be a low-budget affair,” Westrup said.

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Doug Heller, executive director of Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica nonprofit group that tracks politicians’ fundraising, welcomed Brown’s embrace of a low-key, low-donation event.

It also makes for good politics, Heller said, particularly with Brown expected to outline an austere spending plan a week later.

“Frankly, I don’t think Californians would have patience for an extravagant affair funded by Sacramento’s special interests,” he added.

Unlike donors to campaigns, those who give to nonprofit inaugural committees can legally give anonymously. Westrup said Brown’s office was considering whether to release the names and amounts given by donors — something his predecessors have done.

Brown will be sworn in at the 3,000-capacity Sacramento Memorial Auditorium — just across the street from the loft that he and wife, Ann Gust Brown, just rented. Built in 1926, the auditorium has been home to events as varied as Beach Boys and Rolling Stones concerts and the inaugurations of Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis.

For his 2007 inaugural, Schwarzenegger raised roughly $2.75 million. Interest groups were invited to become “gold sponsors” of the event by writing checks of at least $50,000. Their money paid for, among other things, a 20-foot aquarium on the Capitol grounds and Donna Summer singing at a black-tie gala.

Davis raised $3.5 million for his first inaugural in 1999. The private donations paid for him to play host to two simultaneous events — a black-tie gala and rock ‘n’ roll ball.

With California facing hard times, Heller said, smaller is better: “We need less pomp and more substance.”

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shane.goldmacher@latimes.com


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