Schwarzenegger's lavish foreign trips in spotlight

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By Andrew Gumbelin Los Angeles

California's movie star turned governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, came under fire yesterday for failing to disclose the full costs of lavish trips to Japan, China, Canada, Mexico and various European destinations, allowing a non-profit foundation for which he is a major fundraiser to pick up bills running into millions of dollars.

Several public watchdog bodies said the failure to keep strict written records of every expense and make them available to the public constituted a series of ethical lapses that appeared to violate California's laws on open government and contradicted Mr Schwarzenegger's advocacy of subjecting public officials to the "antiseptic of sunshine".

The governor's office insists it has done nothing wrong, but the affair highlights one of the perils of a rich entertainment celebrity taking public office. Before Mr Schwarzenegger entered politics, there was no problem with him leading the high life because he footed the bill himself. Now he is a public figure, the lines between private enjoyment and business conducted on behalf of taxpayers have become somewhat blurred. His travel expenses have been met by a non-profit organisation called the California State Protocol Foundation, which receives tax breaks on the understanding that it is contributing to the public good.

Mr Schwarzenegger recently hosted a fundraiser that netted close to half-a-million dollars for the foundation a possible conflict of interest as he is the foundation's chief beneficiary.

The head of the state Fair Political Practices Commission, a Schwarzenegger appointee, said it may be time to revisit state rules on gifts, but made no comment on whether he thought the governor had broken any rules.