Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger can no longer plead ignorance about which corporate contributors finance his trade jaunts overseas.
The obscure nonprofit that funds the governor's worldwide travels has abandoned – at least temporarily – its long-standing practice of hiding the identities of its donors.
In the four years of Schwarzenegger's governorship, the California State Protocol Foundation has raised millions to underwrite the governor and his staff's travels, but never disclosed the identities of those paying the bills.
The leaders of the nonprofit, which is closely aligned with the business lobby in Sacramento, have said that by keeping contributors' names secret, they were keeping Schwarzenegger – not just the public – in the dark about who pays for his globe-trotting ways.
"I have not the foggiest idea who is putting money anywhere," Schwarzenegger said in 2005, shortly before a trade mission to China.
But that changed Nov. 7 at San Francisco's de Young Museum, when Schwarzenegger and wife Maria Shriver headlined a fundraiser for the very same foundation. Attendees paid up to $25,000 for a seat at the head table with the governor and his wife. [Emphasis added]
It's now impossible for Gov. Schwartzenegger to claim he doesn't know at least some of the people who have paid for the plane tickets and nice hotels. At $25,000 a pop, those sitting at the head table with him probably made it quite clear what their names were.
Furthermore, his presence at the fund raiser effectively made it impossible under state law to shield the identities of those present. The organizers of the event had to know that and still proceeded with the plans. It's pretty clear that all of this talk about keeping things secret so the governor couldn't be accused of impropriety was nothing more than a sham. It was a way to get the governor the funds without having to let the public know who was supporting him in style.
Now, there's nothing wrong with the governor of one of the largest economic engines in the world going abroad to seek new trade for the state's businesses. What is wrong is for him to do so with secret backing. That smells of the very impropriety he claims to have avoided.
In fact, it stinks.