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Ad campaign by gambling tribe features Schwarzenegger 5-4-07

SACRAMENTO (AP) - Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says he doesn't take campaign contributions from Indian tribes because he negotiates gambling compacts with them and wants to avoid the appearance of a quid pro quo.

But the Republican governor may be drawing political benefits from a wealthy tribe nonetheless because of a multimillion-dollar television ad campaign that promotes the latest round of compacts. Some of the commercials feature a picture of a thoughtful-looking Schwarzenegger.

A 30-second ad, which has been running statewide, shows an eagle taking flight, Schwarzenegger with a serious expression and photographs of an ethnically diverse group of children, senior citizens and other adults.

As uplifting music plays in the background, an announcer says, “California and California Indian tribes, together we soar. Governor Schwarzenegger and California Indian tribes have reached historic agreements that bring California hundreds of millions of dollars a year to help balance the budget, improve education and provide quality health care for those who need it most.”

The commercial ends with the announcer urging viewers to contact their legislators and tell them to approve the compacts: “California's future depends on it,” he says.

A 60-second version of the ad also touts Indian tribes as “good responsible neighbors that bring thousands of jobs to all Californians.”

There is no mention in either version of the massive expansion of gambling the compacts would allow - enough new slot machines to fill 10 Las Vegas-sized casinos.

“If you feel good about the ad, you will feel good about Schwarzenegger,” said Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, a Los Angeles-based think tank. “It's certainly allowable to talk about the governor. In terms of helping the governor, it might.”

A spokeswoman for Schwarzenegger, Sabrina Lockhart, said the governor has no plans to ask the Southern California tribe paying for the ads, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, to remove his picture.

“The governor is a public figure,” she said. “They are able to use that photo without the permission of our office. The governor stands by his compacts because he believes they are good for the state, the tribes and the local communities.”

The compacts, which have been approved by the state Senate and are awaiting votes in the Assembly, would allow the Morongo band and four other Southern California casino-operating tribes to expand their operations, adding about 22,500 slot machines. In exchange, they would give the state more than $500 million a year of their winnings.

The expansion would represent a 50 percent increase in the number of slot machines operated by California tribes.

The Morongos, a 1,000-member tribe that has a casino near Palm Springs, have launched a lobbying campaign that could cost up to $20 million to support the compacts.

Patrick Dorinson, a spokesman for Together California, a coalition formed by the Morongo band to back the compacts, said it was natural to mention the governor and include his photograph in the campaign.

“The governor negotiated the compacts and the governor supports the compacts and understands that the amended compacts can bring in much-needed revenue,” he said.

Asked why the ads don't mention that the compacts would expand gambling, Dorinson said, “It's more important to understand that the new revenue from these compacts is much needed at this time, especially as we go into the budget (writing) season.”

Schwarzenegger has been fiercely protective of the use of his picture and image in other instances.

He sued an Ohio car dealer who ran ads showing Schwarzenegger as one of his movie characters, the Terminator. A federal appeals court dismissed the lawsuit in 2004.

That same year, the governor settled a lawsuit that he filed against an Ohio company that produced bobblehead dolls depicting a gun-toting Schwarzenegger.

Lockhart said it was unfair to contrast Schwarzenegger's reaction to the car ads and bobbleheads with his attitude toward the tribal compact ads.

“They are two different situations,” she said. “The other examples are about products that are being sold. You're talking about bobbleheads; it's not the governor's picture.”

The photograph of Schwarzenegger that appears in the ad shows him in a gray suit with blue tie standing in front of a sign promoting an alternative fuel. Neither Lockhart nor Dorinson said they knew where the picture came from or how the tribe obtained it.

Shanto Iyengar, professor of communications and political science at Stanford University, said the ads are an attempt to “cash in on (Schwarzenegger's) popularity.”

The message is, “He's a popular guy and he's behind us and you ought to go along with this,” Iyengar said.

They're an example of a trend in politics in which interest groups take to the airwaves to try to mobilize public support for their positions.

“In a sense, you might argue that (Schwarzenegger) does benefit from it if people buy into the notion that there's a lot of new revenue,” Iyengar said. “But if in fact we get an opposing message ... the governor might find himself in an awkward position. If labor weighs in and suggests this is not good public policy, it becomes controversial.”

Jack Gribbon, California political director for Unite Here, a hotel and casino workers union, said labor might respond with ads of its own. Union officials strongly oppose the compacts, saying they contain inadequate collective bargaining rights for casino workers.

Critics in the Legislature also say the compacts negotiated by Schwarzenegger do not contain sufficient auditing requirements to ensure the state is getting its fair share from the tribes.

Despite the millions of dollars set aside by the Morongos, Gribbon questions the effectiveness of the tribe's campaign.

“Voters have become wise to the fact that there is a handful of tribes in our state that are enormously wealthy, and they also are wise to the fact this instant expansion is the largest single expansion of gambling in American history,” he said. “That's why you're seeing Schwarzenegger in the ads, because he's marginally popular, and they're not talking about a gambling expansion because it is extremely unpopular.”