SACRAMENTO -- Compared to the torrent of gifts that cascaded into former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office and famously muscle-bound arms, Gov. Jerry Brown's gifts have been a mere trickle.
And Brown's aren't nearly as exotic, according to the latest disclosures from California's public officials.
Schwarzenegger routinely reported about $15,000 in gifts a year, including a Giorgio Armani bathrobe (from Armani himself), a $350 pair of boots from designer Tommy Hilfiger, $250 worth of fancy cigars from motivational speaker Tony Robbins, a $325 crystal eagle head from the president of France, and a talking Terminator skull from "Terminator 3" producers Andy Vajna and Mario Kassar.
Other celebrities bearing gifts included Tom Arnold, Danny DeVito and Clint Eastwood.
In contrast, Brown last year hauled in $2,545 in gifts from the not-nearly-as-rich-and-famous, according to new economic interests statements filed with the state's Fair Political Practices Commission.
His presents included a $150 ticket to a Los Angeles Lakers game from Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; a $185 bottle of tequila from Rodrigo Medina de la Cruz, the governor of Nuevo León, Mexico; a $250 ticket to the White House Correspondents Dinner from Newsweek; $58 White House cuff links from wine CEO John DeLuca; a framed New York Times article valued at $185; gifts to "first dog" Sutter and a bottle of whiskey, for a combined value of $156, from Alex Salmond, the first minister of Scotland; an $84.49 box of candy from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein; and a $259.26 dinner from Samsung.
The framed article, a gift of the Times, is a Maureen Dowd column written just after Brown took office in 2011. Headlined "Governor Brown Redux -- The Ice Man Melteth." The column hangs in a hallway by the governor's office.
Brown accepted two flights worth $3,713 -- from Oakland to Los Angeles, and from Sacramento to Washington, D.C. -- at the expense of the California State Protocol Foundation, an organization that takes private donations to provide air travel for the governor. On one of the flights, Brown flew in a private charter to meet with the then-vice president of China in Los Angeles. The foundation was once run by business leaders who bankrolled Schwarzenegger's multiple flights -- costing in the millions -- around the world. Today, the account's balance is $30,000, according to George Kieffer, the director of the foundation.
"Sometimes it's appropriate, polite and hospitable to accept certain things, but the governor certainly hasn't made a practice out of it," said Evan Westrup, a spokesman for the governor. Brown, sensitive to the criticism that rained on Schwarzenegger for what some said was luxurious globe-trotting, explained in his filing that he accepted the free travel "in order to eliminate these costs for taxpayers."
Some Bay Area legislators hauled in more than the governor last year.
Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, spent $3,706 on a trip to a Maui conference, as the Bay Area News Group reported last month. The Pacific Policy Research Foundation, a nonprofit group funded by lobbyists, bolstered her travel experience, paying $2,417 more in expenses for her trip. In all, Bonilla received $5,918 in travel expenses from interest groups in 2012.
In the South Bay, Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Mountain View, accepted $2,453 in gifts -- including a $350 reception, in which he was accompanied by his daughter, from the San Francisco 49ers. He also accepted a $2,492 by the Independent Voter Project in travel and hotel accommodations to attend that group's panel discussion on election issues in San Diego.
In all, 22 Bay Area legislators in 2012 received hundreds of gifts, including paid travel expenses, worth $73,210, an average of $3,328.
There's a $440 per item limit on what legislators can accept, though groups can lavish unlimited amounts for travel expenses -- but the effect can be outsize, said Phillip Ung, lobbyist for California Common Cause, a watchdog group that scrutinizes money in politics.
"We think gifts have the same, if not more, influence as campaign contributions," Ung said. "It's a means of special interests to influence or corrupt the votes of elected officials."
While campaign contributions at least have the rationale of financing campaigns, "the sole purpose of gifts to public officials is to influence," Ung added. "It's a way to build friendships and camaraderie" with the hopes of a payoff down the line.
Sometimes candidates accept gifts from special interests even before they come to the Capitol.
Such was the case in October, when then-aspiring Assemblyman Jim Frazier landed a front-row seat at AT&T Park in San Francisco, courtesy of PG&E. He was in baseball heaven as he watched his beloved Giants shut out the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League title-clinching seventh game that sent his team to the World Series.
The game was a couple of weeks before Election Day, when the former Oakley mayor captured a seat in the newly drawn 11th Assembly District, which includes parts of Contra Costa County.
In an interview, Frazier said that attending the game was a "once in a lifetime opportunity." He said the PG&E ticket was worth several hundred dollars but that he later "paid down" all but $200 with his own money, which elected officials have 30 days to do.
During the campaign, he received $7,800 in contributions from PG&E. But he insisted that neither the subsidized ticket nor the contributions "will ever sway my opinion" on any issues.
The Giants game "wasn't about visiting or being chummy" with PG&E representatives," he said. "It was about me, after a long campaign, having a chance to enjoy something."
giftS FOR THE GOVERNORS
Well-wishers, celebrities and world leaders once lavished presents on former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who routinely received $15,000 in gifts annually. But they've apparently got the message that Gov. Jerry Brown would rather do without them. He accepted only $2,545 in gifts last year.
Here's a comparison of the kinds of gifts they received:
Schwarzenegger: $350 pair of boots from designer Tommy Hilfiger; $250 worth of cigars from motivational speaker Tony Robbins; a $325 crystal eagle head from the president of France; a talking Terminator skull.
Brown: a $150 ticket to a Los Angeles Lakers game from Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; a $185 bottle of tequila from Rodrigo Medina de la Cruz, the governor of Nuevo León, Mexico; a $250 ticket to the White House Correspondents Dinner from Newsweek; $58 White House cuff links from wine CEO John DeLuca; gifts to "first dog" Sutter and a bottle of whiskey, for a combined value of $156, from Alex Salmond, the first minister of Scotland
Source: Fair Political Practices Commission