Arnold doesn’t need money!

Hanging with the swells at last week’s Schwarzenegger fund-raiser

Illustration By Michael Klein

Harmon Leon is the author of The Harmon Chronicles

“I don’t need to take money from anyone. I have plenty of money myself.” These were once the arrogant words of sausage-fingered Arnold Schwarzenegger. Remember his recall-election gibberish, when he insisted he didn’t need to rely on special-interest donors? The other week alone, he raked in $1,727,766, shooting his total take since the election to more than $5,817,996. At an upcoming dinner hosted by New York Governor George Pataki, there’s a minimum donation of $50,000, and Democrats and Sacramento Kings owners Gavin and Joe Maloof hosted a small $100,000-a-plate dinner on the night of a recent home game. Arnold is now a fund-raising whore.

But, for some reason, the fund-raising arm of the Schwarzenegger machine seems to hate the meddling press. I call the organization putting on his San Francisco fund-raising event. Despite the fact that I’m extremely bloating my press credentials, I get a response that is not unlike, say, pure rudeness.

“Yes, I’m calling from Newsweek magazine. Can you give me information about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fund-raising event this evening?”

“It’s a closed event!” barks a perturbed woman on the other end. “You can call the L.A. office. I got to go. Thank you!”

She hangs up. Talk about the big-chill treatment. Well, because Arnold seems to bow down to his fat-cat donors, perhaps posing as a special-interest group would get a better response. I wait 15 minutes, adopt a different-sounding voice and phone back. The same snippy woman answers the phone.

“Yes, I’m interested in donating some money to Arnold Schwarzenegger and was wondering if you could give me some information on tonight’s fund-raising event?” I say.

This time, the woman isn’t snippy at all. There’s a trace of warmth in her voice. She immediately tells me that the event is for the California Recovery Team and is being held at the Four Seasons Hotel.

“Arnold Schwarzenegger should be arriving around 6:25,” she pleasantly shares.

“We’re oversold for the general reception, and the security is going to be tight,” she says, relaying that the general reception alone requires a $500 to $10,000 donation. According to The Sacramento Bee, for a cool half-million dollars, you get to be listed as a “chairman” of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s California Recovery Team. This may well be the highest solicitation on record to aid a campaign in California, all for a man who once said in a radio interview, “Any of those kinds of real big, powerful special interests, if you take money from them, you owe them something.”

“At what level were you interested in donating?” she asks.

I ponder. Do I want to be treated like a high roller or just another one of the numerous people that Arnold sticks his hand out to?

“I’m interested in donating $25,000,” I say.

She’s delighted. For that amount, I’m put on the VIP list and get access to the general reception, the photo op with Arnold, and the dinner.

“What business are you from?” she asks.

I look over at my golf clubs.

“I’m from Pinseeker Software,” I say. “We’re hoping our donation could help keep our group on the governor’s good side.”

“Is it possible to make a payment with a credit card?” I ask.

“Of course.”

She gives me her fax number to send my credit-card information. Great, I’m in. All I need to do is come up with $25,000 before 6 this evening, enabling me to rub elbows with those to whom Arnold is whoring himself.

I quickly put on a $15 suit jacket and head toward the Four Seasons Hotel. A half-hour before the event, there’s already a contingent of protesters in front.

“Hey hey! Ho ho! Arnold’s health-care plan has got to go!” blares through a bullhorn, while a line of uniformed police officers stands by to make sure the riffraff doesn’t make it inside. This is the heavy security the woman stressed. But I have the leg up. I have the $15 suit jacket. Following on the heels of a group of adults in blue suits, I head past the protesters and through the front doors, as the police block the entrance from a man wielding an anti-Arnold sign.

“What a bunch of kooks,” I share with the doorman who holds the door open for me. I point at a protester waving a flier at me that says, “Arnold’s Budget Hurts Seniors.” My self-assured look and $15 suit jacket have made it past the first hurdle.

“Can you direct me to the California Recovery Team function?” I politely ask with a smile to a well-dressed hotel employee stationed at the elevator.

“Through the elevator to the lobby level,” she helpfully explains as I get into an elevator with part of the California Recovery Team: fat cats in suits, gray-haired, distinguished-looking, tan and fit, reeking of big cigars and meaty steak dinners.

I stick close to them as we pass another hotel security person, letting out a little laugh to insinuate that we are together as a group and are sharing an inside joke.

We’re directed to the Veranda Ballroom. A huge line careens down the hall. This very line is that small sliver of Republican pie you always hear about. These are the ones who get all the tax breaks. These are the ones who can throw around thousands to get their photos taken with the star of Kindergarten Cop and influence his political policy, while, outside, penniless protesters are grumbling and whining about such pointless human needs as health care for pathetic seniors. These people own things. They’re not affected by Arnold’s cuts in health care and financial aid for college students.

As we get closer to the reception area, the checkbooks start coming out.

“Write a check—a real big one!” a businessman tells his wife, who scribbles a number followed by a numerous amount of zeros. I peek over her shoulder. It’s a check for $5,000. “Time to write the check,” says another distinguished-looking gentleman. “Should I make it for $3,000 or $4,000?” “How much is your check going to be?” says another.

I approach the long table. The woman who controls the “L” guest list can’t find my name.

“Why don’t you try looking under the $25,000 donor list,” I say, getting indignant, explaining how I faxed my credit-card information earlier this afternoon.

The woman in charge—I know she’s in charge because she has a clipboard—comes over. I explain my case, relaying that she must have missed getting the fax with credit-card information for my $25,000 donation.

I think what’s really holding me back is the fact that, despite my effort, I don’t look like a leader of industry. That, along with being the only one here wearing a hat to hold up his dreadlocks.

Or, maybe they’re turning me away because they think Pinseeker Software is a special-interest group, and, as we all know, Arnold does not take money from special- interest groups!