SACRAMENTO, Calif. – He's spent his millions on exotic show horses, a home for retired chimpanzees — and California's actor-governor.
William Armsted Robinson (search), founder of the DHL courier service, has quietly become a top donor of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (search), forming a triumvirate with real estate developer Alex Spanos (search) and Spanish-language TV executive Jerry Perenchio.
While his counterparts are well-known and well-established in California — Spanos owns the San Diego Chargers, Perenchio heads Univision — the 65-year-old Robinson is not. He's an elusive recluse who has spent the last decade mostly sequestered in Idaho, where he has two homes.
Robinson's first major contribution to a big-time politician is the $650,000 he has given Schwarzenegger. His previous combined donations contributions since 1990 total less than a tenth of that — $45,600 — to two Idaho congressmen and several Republican national committees.
Robinson, who also owns three homes in California and one in Mexico, was moved to support Schwarzenegger by "his disgust" with Gray Davis, the Democratic former governor whose recall put the action star in the governor's office, spokesman Roy Moulton said.
Like Schwarzenegger, Robinson "thinks it's important to attract business back, to make California more attractive to business," Moulton said. Robinson himself is building a horse exhibition arena near near Temecula, which is about half-way between Los Angeles and San Diego.
The personalities of the two men, though, couldn't be more different.
While the governor is the consummate showman and backslapper, Robinson "is a bit of a recluse," Moulton said. "He doesn't get much pleasure out of hanging around the high rollers and movers and shakers." While Robinson occasionally attends fund-raisers and other events, "he's usually the first one gone. He buys the food, but he rarely hangs around to eat it."
The lifelong bachelor gave $1 million last year to Chimp Haven, a 200-acre home for primates who have survived laboratory experiments. He showed up in May 2003 for the groundbreaking in his hometown of Shreveport, La., long enough to accept a picture painted by a chimp from the Tulsa Zoo. And he attended a celebratory luncheon there earlier this month, then skipped the dedication of the facility he helped build.
He's contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to found and finance the animal shelter in Teton County, Idaho.
But he's dedicated most of his attention since 1998 to becoming one of the nation's largest breeders of Lusitanos, horses that evolved from Portuguese horseback bullfighting.
When Robinson Lusitanos Inc. went looking for a photograph of Robinson for its Web site, the best it could find was a distant shot of him in sunglasses and ball cap, sitting in the VIP tent at the U.S. Dressage Olympic selection trials.
Inquiries about Robinson to Republican Party leaders, horse breeders and charity beneficiaries brought a response only from Moulton, who said Robinson was tipped to The Associated Press' calls by a friend at Chimp Haven. Robinson declined an interview, Moulton said: "That's the recluse side of him coming out. He prefers not to talk to the outside world."
Robinson spends most of his time reading voraciously, mostly about history and politics, when he's not busy with his horses, Moulton said.
He founded Document Handling Limited, one of the nation's first courier services, in 1970 and spent years chasing around the globe to help expand what became DHL Airways and DHL International.
United Parcel Service and Federal Express had trouble finding Robinson a year ago when they wanted him to testify in a federal transportation proceeding as they unsuccessfully tried to block his sale of DHL to Astar Air Cargo Inc.
"He's been somewhat mysterious," said UPS spokesman David Bolger. "He's really a colorful character."
Robinson finally showed up for his sworn testimony, dressed in blue jeans and a denim shirt, sporting a beard and felt hat — and accompanied by three attorneys.
Those in attendance were required to sign confidentiality statements, "So if any of it winds up in the paper," Robinson said at the outset, "Somebody around this table is in trouble," finished Phillip Douglas, one of Robinson's attorneys.
Robinson is no stranger to government dealings. He has fought a long-running series of tax battles with the Internal Revenue Service.
The IRS sought $18 million in back taxes and penalties in 1992, while Robinson said he was due a nearly $6 million refund in part because he deducted $165,000 for his horse show, tennis and farming activities.
A 2001 book by Washington, D.C.-based Center for Public Integrity titled "The Cheating of America" alleged DHL was among companies that sheltered its income in international tax havens. A judge ordered DHL to pay $550 million in back taxes and penalties in 1998, but the company appealed and won a partial victory over the value and transfer of the courier company's DHL trademark.