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Schwarzenegger sends mixed message on public access

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Schwarzenegger sends mixed message on public access

  • The actor and California gubernatorial candidate says he supports stronger public disclosure laws, yet requires all campaign staff members to sign a confidentiality agreement.

Sep. 24, 2003 — A day after vowing to open state government to the public, California gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger admitted last week that all of his campaign staff members were required to sign a confidentiality agreement.

The agreement, which was first made public Sept. 19 by the Los Angeles Times, states that Schwarzenegger has devoted “substantial effort and expense to limit the constant efforts of the press, other media, and the public to learn of [his] personal and business affairs,” according to the newspaper. The actor is running to unseat Gov. Gray Davis in the state’s Oct. 7 recall election.

While confidentiality agreements are considered standard practice in the film industry, many experts say such contracts are highly unusual in political campaigns.

“I’ve been working on campaigns in California for 15 years, and I’ve never been asked to sign one,” said Tom Shortridge, director of Campaign Experts Consulting of Los Angeles.

Schwarzenegger announced last week that he supports a constitutional amendment pending in the California legislature that would strengthen the state’s public disclosure laws. The amendment would make public access a constitutional right and limit exemptions under the state’s Public Records Act. Schwarzenegger called for expanding the amendment to apply to the legislative process as well. Sponsors of the current legislation agreed to exempt legislative meetings and caucuses from the amendment, at the behest of fellow lawmakers.

“The people of this state do not trust this government,” Schwarzenegger said at a Sept. 18 press conference in support of the amendment, reported The Sacramento Bee. “They feel it is corrupted by dirty money, closed doors and backroom deals.”

However, Schwarzenegger’s calls for openness did not extend into his own campaign.

Campaign staff members are forced to agree not to disclose “information and items relating to or concerning Arnold Schwarzenegger and his family, friends, associates and employees,” including any financial, business, medical, legal, personal and contractual information. They are also prevented from taking any photographs, movies and videos of Schwarzenegger or related parties. Staff members are further required to pay a $50,000 fine for each violation of the agreement.

Campaign spokesman Sean Walsh told Reuters that confidentiality is the unwritten rule of political campaigns.

“Mr. Schwarzenegger has had an extensive professional career,” he said. “These are the types of agreements standard in the types of business practices he has had in the past.”

This is the first time Schwarzenegger has run for public office.

MC


© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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