May 19, 2008

More corporate gifts for Schwarzenegger and his associates

In the most recent in a series of endless reports about Corporate gifts being given to our Governor and his associates – ostensibly in the “public interest”, the LA Times has reported that General Electric will be sponsoring a glitzy Governors Conference this August at Universal Studios in Hollywood.

The event could cost more than $3 million between GE and other private sponsors, according to participants in the planning of the conference, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the arrangements. That would make it an expensive example of a technique Schwarzenegger has embraced to bring the glitzy style he appreciates to ceremonial state functions: getting corporations and wealthy supporters to pay for them. The governor’s aides say the practice saves taxpayers money.

Government watchdog groups argue that it may compromise the administration’s independence from corporate interests. Schwarzenegger’s phone call with Immelt was arranged by a GE executive, formerly an advisor to the governor, who oversees the company’s lobbyists in Sacramento.

“It’s a governmental conference, with governmental officials,” said Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles. “If GE is paying for it, the question is what does GE expect for their contribution? And they are certainly going to expect good will.” A spokesman for General Electric said the size and nature of the company’s contribution have not been finalized, and administration officials said there is no budget yet. Schwarzenegger’s office has accepted millions of dollars in private gifts for things such as state dinners, international travel and ornaments on state Christmas trees.

The cross-border conference, held each year in one of the 10 participating U.S. and Mexican states, is an important event for Schwarzenegger because it is the first to be hosted in California in eight years, and the only one while he is governor. “We are going to take this important annual event to a whole new level,” Schwarzenegger said last month in a statement announcing the partnership…

The bulk of private support received by Schwarzenegger’s office has come from the California Protocol Foundation, a nonprofit group affiliated with the California Chamber of Commerce that does not disclose the names of its donors or the details of specific expenditures.

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