Schwarzenegger Committees Raise $6.4 Million To Promote Causes, Including Workers’ Compensation Reform
Political committees designed to promote the policies of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) have received more than $6.4 million in donations, including six-figure donations from Zenith Insurance and several other groups that support Schwarzenegger's call for legislation to reduce employers' workers' compensation insurance premiums, the San Jose Mercury News reports. Although donors can give a maximum of $21,200 to the governor's campaign fund, there is no limit on donations to political committees designed to promote ballot measures, and many of the contributions to date have gone to the California Recovery Team, according to the Mercury News (Nissenbaum, San Jose Mercury News, 2/5). That committee -- set up as a ballot measure account -- allows the governor to stage rallies, coordinate letter-writing campaigns to lawmakers and use other public relations techniques to promote initiatives, possibly including workers' compensation reform. The committee is expected to be a major campaign catalyst to pass Proposition 57, a $15 billion bond measure to help the state refinance its deficit, and Proposition 58, a mandate to balance the state budget. Both measures will be included on the March 2 statewide ballot (California Healthline, 1/6). The "bold" fundraising strategy has caused critics to call for new campaign finance legislation that would be similar to federal law that prohibits candidates from taking donations of more than $5,000 for committees they create to promote political causes, the Mercury News reports. Marty Wilson, chief fundraising strategist for Schwarzenegger, said the administration would "look seriously at any well-thought-out" campaign finance reform proposals (San Jose Mercury News, 2/5).
Schwarzenegger is "getting into a tricky" situation as health insurers have been "pouring fortunes into the coffers" of political committees in hopes of influencing the governor's position on workers' compensation reform and a law (SB 2) that would require some employers to provide health insurance to employees, Jill Stewart, a political commentator, writes in a San Francisco Chronicle opinion piece (Stewart, San Francisco Chronicle, 2/6). Schwarzenegger in November proposed cutting up to $11.3 billion in funds from the state's $29 billion program, under which employers pay $5.85 per $100 of payroll -- the highest rate in the nation -- for coverage. Schwarzenegger said he would seek to place a measure to reform the state workers' compensation system on the November statewide ballot if legislators did not approve such legislation by March 1 (California Healthline, 2/2). In addition, SB 2, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2006, could be repealed in a referendum on the November ballot. The law will require employers with 200 or more employees to provide health insurance to workers and their dependents by 2006 or pay into a state fund that would provide such coverage. Employers with 50 to 199 employees will have to provide health insurance only to workers by 2007, and employers with fewer than 20 workers will be exempt from the law. Those with 20 to 49 employees will be exempt from the law unless the state provides tax credits to subsidize the cost of health benefits (California Healthline, 1/30). Although changes to the workers' compensation system are needed, donations from insurers -- $100,000 from AIG, $49,000 from Travelers and $29,000 from Chubb -- "won't help [Schwarzenegger] sell reform," Stewart writes. In addition, if Schwarzenegger supports the repeal of SB 2, "critics will instantly point to money he received" from health insurers, including $21,200 from Health Net, $31,200 from Pacificare and $21,200 from WellPoint executive Dennis Weinberg, Stewart writes. Donations from health industry companies also could affect Schwarzenegger's proposed spending reductions for Medi-Cal and Healthy Families, according to Stewart. "This is the knotty problem presented by large campaign contributions," Stewart writes (Stewart, San Francisco Chronicle, 2/6).
Additional information on SB 2 is available online.