It’s no longer news that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger long ago broke the first promise he made upon declaring himself a candidate in 2003: he would never take campaign contributions from special interests.Since then, of course, the governor and his committees have been the beneficiaries of contributions from oil and chemical companies, cell phone providers, insurance companies, big agriculture, wineries, mortgage companies, developers – just about every special interest in the book except labor unions.That’s not ending this year, but the days are over when Chevron Corporation or Mercury Insurance could willy nilly write checks to a candidate for $250,000 or more.In a way, that’s because the political ghost of ex-Governor Gray Davis has returned to haunt the current governor. Three years before Schwarzenegger swept him out of office in 2003, Davis sponsored Proposition 34, a campaign finance reform measure designed to affect just about everyone but himself. The law limits what every candidate can raise from individual and corporate donors, but exempted anyone running for governor in 2002 – with meant Davis was the last governor who could raise money unchecked.As a candidate in a special election, Schwarzenegger was not subject to those rules in 2003. But in a regular election, Schwarzenegger this year for the first time must deal with the Proposition 34 rules. He cannot take more than $22,300 from any individual or corporation or committee. Nor can there be any sham committees to benefit him unless they can be proven completely beyond his control.So Schwarzenegger either must pony up his own cash or find many thousands of donors to replace the big corporate donors who contributed tens of millions of dollars to his special election campaign last year. Yes, donors can still give large sums to political parties, which can buy ads for their candidates. But parties can’t legally coordinate their efforts with candidates.Meanwhile, the governor has been ambivalent about spending his own money on politics. He put $4 million into his recall election campaign in 2003, then tried to call it a loan and repay himself from the donations of others. When a court later ruled this illegal, Schwarzenegger called the decision “fantastic” – but didn’t reach for his wallet until two years later.That was last fall, when corporate fund-raising ran short and his opponents were blanketing the television airwaves with anti-Arnold ads. In response, he plunked down $5 million, and never tried for reimbursement.Now he will have to reach much deeper. That’s because the two major Democrats vying to challenge him in November have already shown they can cope well with the new rules.State Controller Steve Westly, the first candidate to air television ads this year, had plopped $20 million of his own cash into his campaign kitty by early February, with promises of more to come. Yes, Westly wants to raise outside cash and at that report had taken in about $4 million from others. But the former eBay executive’s personal fortune is estimated at about $225 million — comparable to Schwarzenegger’s reputed wealth — and he plainly is willing to spend some of it to fulfill his ambitions.Meanwhile, state Treasurer Phil Angelides had taken in small donations from more than 20,000 contributors and won the endorsement of the California Teachers Association, perhaps the state’s most politically influential union. A Sacramento-area developer, Angelides does not possess a personal fortune to match either Westly or Schwarzenegger, but he’s far from poor and has built a large cadre of supporters over more than 15 years in state politics. Plus, by casting himself as the “anti-Arnold” almost from the moment Schwarzenegger took office, he widened his appeal among rank-and-file Democrats likely to make small donations.Angelides, like Westly, has shown no shyness about using personal money in past political campaigns.”Schwarzenegger will have to be very careful about not alienating his Republican base any more than he already has,” says Garry South, chief Westly strategist who played a similar role in many Davis campaigns. “He can’t go to corporations anymore for the big money.”So he’s got to mind his manners or spend huge amounts of his own money. Even though Davis could go to corporations and did, it still took us four years to raise $70 million for the 2002 campaign even when we had no limits. Arnold only has about six more months to raise money until this campaign gets going in earnest.”Schwarzenegger, with almost no money in his campaign account at the mid-winter reporting date, set a fund-raising goal of $120 million for himself and the state Republican Party this year. Reaching that goal would require raising more than $400,000 each day between now and November, not a likely prospect.Which means Californians will soon know just how much Schwarzenegger cares about the agenda he’s set out for the state. They’ll be able to tell by the sums of his own money he’s willing to spend.
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