By Amy Argetsinger
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 13, 2005
LOS ANGELES, Aug. 12 -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, already facing plummeting approval ratings and questions about his business dealings, took another hit Friday with a report that a tabloid publisher with close ties to the former movie star paid an alleged paramour of his $20,000 not to discuss their relationship.
The August 2003 confidentiality agreement between American Media Inc. -- publisher of the National Enquirer, Globe and Star -- and bit-part actress Gigi Goyette was reached two days after Schwarzenegger announced his candidacy for governor, and seven months before he signed on as an editor for two bodybuilding magazines owned by the company.
Details of the agreement -- in which Goyette agreed not to share her story with anyone outside American Media -- were reported in a front-page story in the Los Angeles Times on Friday, though the deal was first described in an opinion piece published by freelance journalist Laurence Leamer in the same newpaper more than a month ago.
The governor's office would not comment Friday, other than to refer to comments Schwarzenegger's spokesman Rob Stutzman gave the Times saying he did not believe the governor knew of the deal.
Stutzman added that Schwarzenegger's dealings with American Media had no connection to the company's "business of purchasing the rights to stories."
"That's what they do," he said. "Obviously, part of their business is the tabloid business."
Stu Zakim, a spokesman for American Media, said, "We're not commenting at all." A message left on Goyette's answering machine was not returned. Neither were messages left at a number the California Bar Association listed for her attorney, Charlotte Hassett.
Ethics-in-government experts and political observers said the deal almost certainly did not violate any laws but that it created the appearance of a conflict that could hurt Schwarzenegger's reputation at a time when he is relying on his own personal popularity to advance his political agenda against growing opposition across California.
"It's a story diverting attention from what he wants to focus on," said Robert M. Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles.
Last month, Schwarzenegger faced a firestorm of criticism when it was revealed that he was set to receive at least $5 million over five years for his role as editor of Muscle & Fitness and Flex magazines, which receive most of their advertising revenue from the controversial dietary supplement industry, the subject of a regulatory bill that the governor vetoed last year. Schwarzenegger later severed his contract with the magazines.
Since then, journalists across California have joined some of the governor's opponents in casting more scrutiny than ever on the vast and complex dealings of the former bodybuilder, who made a fortune in real estate and other businesses even before he became one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood.
The latest allegations raise the specter of the governor's well-placed associates possibly buying the silence of a woman whose story could have hurt his political career.
The National Enquirer wrote about Goyette and her relationship with Schwarzenegger in spring of 2001, when he was first contemplating a run for office. According to interviews Goyette gave to Leamer for his book "Fantastic: The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger," the two had a brief fling in 1975 when she was a teenager. They then reconnected in the late 1980s and carried on a once-a-year affair, generally when she was working at the annual fitness convention he hosts in Ohio.
In 2003, Goyette told the Times, she heard again from American Media, this time asking to buy the exclusive rights to her story, a deal she assumed would lead to a book. The Times also reported that a friend of Goyette's was paid $1,000 in cash for signing a similar agreement not to discuss what Goyette had told her.
Yet the company never published any more stories about the alleged relationship, and in fact steered clear of most gossip about Schwarzenegger during the campaign.
Bruce Cain, a professor of political science at the University of California at Berkeley, said the latest allegation could sting Schwarzenegger, even if no laws were broken. "In the public sector, it's not just the reality, it's the perception that matters," he said. "If he paid off a woman to not talk about his relationship with her, he's conspiring to keep information out of the public domain that's relevant to the way people judge him."