As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Schwarzenegger: Lifestyle of the Rich And Entitled

The most sickening thing about Paul Pringle's excellent LAT story on Governor Schwarzenegger's little non-profit scam is that we're talking about a very rich man, one who prides himself on not drawing a salary for his public service, one who has boasted that he can't be bought. But yet he willingly sucks up all kinds of goodies and treats on the public dime. I'm going to excerpt Pringle's report on the flip, but first, a little story. Plenty of people I've talked to in Santa Monica have encountered Schwarzenegger, and I honestly can't say that even one reaction is a good one. Of particular note is the story of one employee at a Starbucks in a ritzy area of town, one that receives celebrity customers all the time. When Arnold came in and asked for a couple beverages, he scoffed at the notion that he would have to pay for them. "I'm the governor," he said. The employee told me that he was pretty much the only celebrity customer that's ever pulled that move. But it makes perfect sense in the context of this article:

California's larger-than-life governor is unabashed about living large, but keeping him in luxury sometimes depends on the same taxpayer subsidies granted to hand-to-mouth charities.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, a millionaire many times over, bills much of his overseas travel to an obscure nonprofit group that can qualify its secret donors for full tax deductions, just as if they were giving to skid row shelters or the United Way.

So rich donors give in to a fund that Arnold uses to finance his lifestyle, and the donors can both hide their identity and receive a tax deduction, robbing the state coffers of tax revenue.

Nonprofit watchdogs say using charitable write-offs to pay for sumptuous travel is an abuse of tax codes.

"Wow, that's a problem," said Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy. "Why should our tax dollars subsidize his lavish lifestyle?"

Making matters worse, Borochoff and others say, is that the nonprofit that finances Schwarzenegger's globe-trotting, the California State Protocol Foundation, could be a vehicle for interests that hope to curry favor with the governor.

By giving to the foundation, donors avoid having their identities made public, because charities are not governed by the disclosure rules that apply to campaign contributions. And they can donate unlimited amounts to the nonprofit, which is not subject to contribution ceilings the way campaign accounts are.

This is unbelievably wrong. A multi-millionaire governor, first of all, shouldn't be living large off of any kind of donation fund. Second of all, it shouldn't be a back door around campaign finance laws. And the nonprofit that runs this fund refuses to open their books and disclose their donor lists.

But this is all too typical. It's the same sense of entitlement that a rich man uses to demand free lattes at Starbucks.

Here's a fun anecdote about Schwarzenegger ripping off the Simon Weisenthal Center:

Schwarzenegger has tapped at least one other charity for some of his travel. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, celebrated for its Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles and far-flung Nazi-hunting efforts, paid more than $51,000 to help send the governor to Israel in 2004, a year when the charity ran a deficit, records show.

The trip carried a steep tab because of the private jet, said people familiar with Schwarzenegger's travel [...]

The governor could easily pick up outsized travel bills himself, and a spokesman said Schwarzenegger does pay for his private jet when he flies domestically on state business.

But trips abroad are something else.

The argument Arnold always makes against this is that a foundation bankrolling his travel means that the public sector doesn't have to. That's a load of garbage. We all finance this travel through bad legislation and payouts to the donors who pay into this slush fund in secret. In addition, by allowing these donors to write off their donations for hotel suites and Gulfstream Jets and caviar, taxpayers ARE footing the bill, at least in part.

All of this is to say that the Arnold of the "I can't be bought" days was never telling the truth. His outsized celebrity ego actually has instilled a sense that he shouldn't operate under the constraints of, you know, having to pay for stuff.

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