So, ho hum, here we are again, facing yet another bill signing period. By the hundreds, putative new laws are now and will be piled upon the desk of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who must decide whether to sign them, exercise a veto or let them become law without his signature. It’s a heady, if hectic, time for any governor, one made more crowded by the fact that there are fundraisers to attend and campaign donors to glad-hand. Nothing different there from any previous governor. Except this governor promised not to do it. While campaigning in the 2003 recall election, he observed that, “There is no question these contributions have some influence. Any of these kinds of real, big special interests, if you take money from them, you owe them something.” Since then, of course, he has maintained nothing can influence his decisions, that he is his own man pure and simple, beyond influencing. But the facts argue otherwise. Schwarzenegger, who campaigned on the promise of eliminating contributions to both governors and legislators during the budget-making period and pledged to end contributions to governors while their desks are loaded with passed bills, continually sets records for fundraising in both periods. And yet, his 2003 analysis remains as correct today as it was then. All you need to do is look at his past actions: Twice he has vetoed a bill that would mandate a comprehensive study of whether California has any immediate need for liquefied natural gas. Sempra Energy, which will soon begin bringing LNG into the state from its under-construction gas receiving facility in Baja California, Mexico, has kicked more than $400,000 into his various political committees. ChevronTexaco is another contributor, the big company and its executives having kicked in $665,000 as of the June 15 reporting date. If it reaches him, what will Schwarzenegger do with AB 118, the bill by Democratic Assembly Speaker Fabian N ez aiming to tax oil companies that drill in California to the tune of about $137 million per year to fund research on alternative energy? ChevronTexaco was one of several oil companies that kicked in tens of millions of dollars last year, when a similar proposal made the November ballot as an initiative and was overwhelmed by the tide of petro dollars thrown against it. Schwarzenegger hit on the problem when he first sought office: Unless he signs the N ez bill, his motives will be open to question, no matter what his real, underlying beliefs about it may be. Even before the bill-signing period began, the governor ran afoul of the more than $15 million contributed to his committees by developers like the Spanos Companies of Stockton ($2.7 million), statewide homebuilder KB Home and its top executives Eli Broad and Bruce Karatz ($429,000) and Los Angeles developer Rick Caruso ($653,000). When Schwarzenegger’s chief of staff and cabinet secretary lobbied the Air Resources Board to go slow with rules regulating particulate smog from old diesel construction equipment, critics immediately noted the amounts contributed by developers and the fact that Chief of Staff Susan Kennedy and Cabinet Secretary Dan Dunmoyer actually are paid more by Schwarzenegger’s campaign committees than by the state. This, of course, came at the very time Schwarzenegger was traveling the world posing as a leading opponent of greenhouse gases and other harmful emissions. “A tarnished green giant,” some critics said. Others began calling him “the pollutinator.” The question raised by these facts is simple: Who do he and they really work for, the people or the donors who pay those salaries and for Schwarzenegger’s private jet and the klieg lights at his every public appearance? Similar questions have arisen in previous bill-signing periods, when Schwarzenegger vetoed consumerist bills like one that would have guaranteed cell phone users the right to cancel contracts within 30 days if unsatisfied with service (AT&T and affiliates have contributed $235,000) and another toughening the state’s automotive lemon laws (car dealers have tossed in more than $2.8 million). The bottom line: If Schwarzenegger wants to be taken seriously as both an impartial decision-maker acting on his own convictions and as the world leader in the fight against climate change, he will first have to clean up the foul image created by the very existence of his vast corps of big-money business contributors. Tom Elias is author of The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It, now available in an updated third edition. His e-mail address is [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!
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