The tide of troubling revelations about Arnold Schwarzenegger grows deeper every day, at last beginning to cause some analysts to think in terms rarely applied to any previous California governor.
First, the Los Angeles Times and Sacramento Bee revealed that two days before taking office, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a contract paying him at least $5 million over four years to help edit and “further the business interests of” two muscle magazines filled with ads for nutritional supplements often laced with steroids. Months later, he vetoed a bill limiting their use by high school students.
Then the San Jose Mercury News reported three of his top staffers – Communications Director Rob Stutzman, Chief of Staff Pat Clarey and Legislative Counsel Richard Costigan – all with state salaries well over $100,000 – also are paid by the governor’s campaign committee.
Days later the San Francisco Chronicle revealed that First Lady Maria Shriver’s personal lawyer George Kieffer heads a group lobbying for an Australian firm’s proposed multi-billion dollar liquefied natural gas importing plant off the coast of Ventura County. Kieffer’s law firm and its members also have contributed more than $20,000 to the governor’s various committees this year alone.
Earlier, chief Schwarzenegger political consultant Mike Murphy’s Navigators lobbying firm picked up a $1 million deal to promote LNG and the Ventura County plans of Australia’s BHP Billiton.
Is it coincidence that Schwarzenegger, who can veto any site selection decisions of the State Lands Commission, says both that he wants LNG in spite of conflicting reports over whether it’s needed and that he favors the Billiton plan?
And there was the news that Schwarzenegger’s magazine contract partner, American Media – also publisher of the National Enquirer – paid his alleged former mistress $20,000 for exclusive rights to her story, only to deep six it.
Then this column revealed Schwarzenegger’s longtime links to the Red Bull energy drink and its corporate chief, which pose a potential conflict of interest when bills restricting junk food in high schools reach his desk. Other media reports also indicate an upcoming conflict between his interest in “Terminator” software and bills to regulate video games.
All this in a month, and revelations of fund-raising conflicts of interest are still pouring in.
What does it all add up to? Some political analysts have begun applying a C-word: corruption.
“The first thing I look for when thinking about corruption is whether there’s been a clear violation of the law,” says Larry Berg, retired director of the Unruh Institute for Politics at USC. Both Kieffer and Democratic state Sen. Martha Escutia of Montebello, sponsor of the anti-junk food package, studied under Berg. “His veto of the nutritional supplement bill looks to me like a very clear violation of conflict of interest laws.”
Berg calls the payment to Schwarzenegger’s alleged ex-mistress ‘hush money.’ “It could be a conflict of interest, too,” he adds. “Even if the governor didn’t make the payment, did he know about it? Of course, he says no. But he couldn’t remember groping anyone either, and promised to hire a private detective to see if he did it.” None was ever hired.
“This has all the earmarks of corruption, especially with the double-dipping by his highest aides. I can’t recall any other governor ever allowing that.” Berg added. “Governors always make employees go off the government payroll when they start doing political work. But not Arnold. If a Democrat were doing this stuff, the Republicans would be screaming their heads off.”
But they’re not. “He’s one of the wealthiest governors ever in America, so he has some involvements,” said Allan Hoffenblum, a former Republican consultant and now co-publisher of a guide to California politics. “None of this is corruption because he does not personally profit.”
Yet Schwarzenegger received $1.5 million under his magazine contract, refusing to give a penny back even when compelled to cancel the pact in July.
“Look, the muscle magazine thing was just stupid and he doesn’t want to talk about his past womanizing,” says Hoffenblum. “He’s made a lot of mistakes, but corruption is not one of them.”
Democrats disagree. “His administration is a cesspool of ethical conflicts,” says Bob Mulholland, political director of the state Democratic Party. “It’s not just him, but a lot of his appointees who are now regulating the same businesses they used to lobby for. No one else anywhere has ever done stuff like this without getting indicted.”
No one is talking indictment for Schwarzenegger. But there is a lot of gossip about the possibility he may not seek reelection, especially if his measures do poorly in the November special election.
Then there are his wife’s wishes. “I want him back at home,” Shriver declared on the Oprah Winfrey Show in mid-August.Which leaves Schwarzenegger crippled, at least for now. But his movie-made celebrity assures that no one can rule out a possible recovery.