Inaugural cash pouring inBy Kevin Yamamura
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has received at least $640,000 in contributions to celebrate his second inauguration in January, including donations from health insurers and construction firms with agendas at the Capitol next year, according to a donor list released Friday.
The Republican governor raised the cash in swift fashion after his landslide re-election Nov. 7 over Democrat Phil Angelides. He has planned two days' worth of festivities next month, capped by his invitation-only swearing-in ceremony at Memorial Auditorium on Jan. 5.
The top five "Gold Sponsors," who each gave at least $50,000, are Chevron, Raley's, the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Real Estate Political Action Committee and Adams Steel, an Anaheim scrap-metal recycler. An additional 26 organizations and firms gave at least $15,000 each at the "Silver Sponsor" level.
The donors receive tickets to a special reception, the inauguration, a "Legislative Lunch" with state elected officials and a "California Celebration." Because the inaugural committee is a nonprofit, it does not have to disclose its donors but plans to do so voluntarily on a regular basis, said spokeswoman Julie Soderlund.
Schwarzenegger plans to make health care affordability his top priority next year, with a stated goal of providing coverage for more than 6 million uninsured Californians, and health insurers have a keen interest in his yet-to-be announced proposal. The Association of California Life and Health Insurance Companies gave Schwarzenegger $15,000 toward his inauguration.
The governor and lawmakers also will decide next year how to begin spending the $37.3 billion in voter-approved public works bonds. Among construction companies that donated $15,000 to the governor's inauguration were Tutor-Saliba Corp., a major Sylmar road builder, and CEMEX Inc., a Mexico-based cement firm.
Carmen Balber, a consumer advocate with the Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, said donors are paying for access to the governor as he establishes his agenda in 2007.
"This is simply another way for companies and associations who want special access to the governor to gain it," Balber said. "The 'Gold Sponsors' gave more than they're allowed to give the governor in any election year. They bought themselves additional access and influence that they wouldn't otherwise have."
Soderlund disputed that claim.
"The governor makes decisions based upon what he believes is in the best interests of the people of California," she said. "Those who contribute do so because they believe in his vision."
Angelides lamented after his Nov. 7 loss that Schwarzenegger had co-opted his campaign themes. Now the Republican governor has co-opted all four of the powerful Democrats who once held honorary positions of prominence in Angelides' campaign.
Schwarzenegger released his deep list of 22 inaugural committee co-chairs, which includes incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, as well as U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. During Angelides' unsuccessful campaign, he named all four Democrats as his own co-chairs in hopes that their popularity would extend to his own effort. The inaugural co-chairs are ceremonial positions.
Schwarzenegger also named former Gov. Gray Davis, the Democrat he ousted from office in 2003, as a co-chair, as well as former Republican Govs. George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson. Former first lady Nancy Reagan is also an inaugural co-chair.
All four legislative leaders are on the list: Núñez, D-Los Angeles; Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland; Senate Republican leader Richard Ackerman of Irvine; and Assembly Republican leader Mike Villines of Clovis.
Roger Salazar, a spokesman for the California Democratic Party, said Schwarzenegger's bipartisan list of co-chairs is more tradition than a special effort to reach out to the other party. He added that Schwarzenegger "ran as a Democrat. We're going to hold him to it."
Schwarzenegger also invited mayors from the state's 10 most populous cities to serve as co-chairs, including Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo, who agreed Friday to do so.
Copyright ©2006 Sacramento Bee. Published 12/16/2006.