SACRAMENTO – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) has funneled nearly a quarter million dollars of campaign money to a lobbying committee that promotes his views without disclosing how the money is spent or where it came from, records show.
Campaign finance experts called the private nonprofit California Recovery Team (search) a slush fund that allows the governor to skirt disclosure laws that apply to most political committees.
The governor's lawyer said he has done nothing illegal and blamed campaign-disclosure rules that require few details from lobbying committees.
The committee filed campaign-finance reports showing it spent $252,013 to influence legislative or administrative action, but it did not say where the money went or where it came from.
The sources of the money were determined only by checking payments from two Schwarzenegger committees; by passing the money through those funds, the governor avoided revealing its ultimate source.
Schwarzenegger has pushed for open government and campaigned to curb the influence of special-interest groups. In pledges before and after his election, the governor has said he would disclose his public finances.
"It's troublesome that we don't know how they're spending the money," said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies. "The law should require more detail, but it doesn't."
Campaign-finance records show the California Recovery Team has received $222,744 from two other Schwarzenegger committees: the similarly named "Gov. Schwarzenegger's California Recovery Team" and the Total Recall Committee, which helped pay for his campaign in last year's recall election.
The governor's lawyer, Thomas Hiltachk, said the tax-exempt corporation paid the governor's expenses for public rallies designed to pressure lawmakers — most notably one last month where he derided legislators as "girlie-men" for their reluctance to approve his budget.
The committee reported it spent nearly $50,000 this year lobbying lawmakers on the budget and more than $200,000 last year lobbying the Legislature on Schwarzenegger's repeal of the increase in the car license tax — his first executive order.
Total Recall lists the $100,000 it gave last year as a "civic donation," without giving details. Schwarzenegger's committee says its $122,744 was for "member communications," "meetings and appearances" or "candidate travel, lodging and meals."
"Every penny has been disclosed. That's what the form requires," Hiltachk said. "The complaint shouldn't be to us, it should be to the FPPC," the Fair Political Practices Commission that wrote the rules.
The commission is amending its rules to impose contribution limits on candidate-controlled committees formed to influence ballot decisions.
In a March interview with The Associated Press, Schwarzenegger also said there is no intent to hide any contributors.
"We don't put any blocks on information," the governor said. "One of the very important directions everyone has on my team is to do everything straight forward, legitimate and open."
Lance Olson, an attorney who has set up several similar committees, called the governor's committee a political "slush fund." He noted the commission's new rules will not take affect before November and will not affect disclosure requirements.