Bonnie Reiss has always relished the idea of getting caught up in a cause larger than herself, whether it's getting a political mentor elected or talking up the environment. She launched her political career by volunteering in Ted Kennedy's 1980 presidential campaign. Then, after building an entertainment law practice in Los Angeles, she pioneered the use of celebrity endorsements for environmental causes. Nonetheless, the Queens, N.Y., native was stunned in early November 2003 to find herself inside the governor's suite in Sacramento, grappling with one of the largest state budget deficits in U.S.
history. She had been a close adviser to Arnold Schwarzenegger for nearly a decade, but after the actor swept to power in the recall election, she was named senior adviser and charged with putting Schwarzenegger's administrative team together. For the next three years, Reiss helped guide the governor through the treacherous waters of state politics. After Schwarzenegger was re-elected in 2006, Reiss left the administration and last summer joined with her former gubernatorial colleague, Terry Tamminen, in establishing an L.A. outpost for private equity firm Pegasus Capital Advisors. Their main task is to look for promising clean technology companies to invest in.

Question: Some people stick with one career and seek to rise to the top. You've had several.

Answer: I'm a person who listens to her inner voice, no matter how big a step or challenging it may be. So when I see a new opportunity to make a difference, if it feels right, I take that step.

Q: How did you first meet Arnold Schwarzenegger?

A: I was working on the Ted Kennedy presidential campaign in late 1979 and early 1980 and met and became close friends with Maria Shriver, who was like me volunteering on the campaign for her uncle. We were both in our 20s. At the time, Maria had just started dating Arnold and I was also dating a man from California. We both got assigned to come out to California in advance of the June primary. One of the first things we did was to slap a Kennedy bumper sticker on Arnold's car. He took it really good-naturedly. We also used him on Venice Beach as a crowd-builder for the campaign.

Q: What was your first impression of Arnold Schwarzenegger?

A: He was an absolute sponge for information and had a passion for listening and learning. He could also be quite funny.

Q: So how did you decide to be an entertainment lawyer?

A: When I was growing up, I was really inspired by Gregory Peck in "To Kill a Mockingbird," Spencer Tracy in "Inherit the Wind" and all those Perry Mason television shows. I knew then I wanted to do something that used the power of film and television to influence society and also involved the practice of law.

Q: That doesn't sound like representing actors or cutting film deals.

A: When I came out to California to stay shortly after the Kennedy campaign, I joined an entertainment law firm briefly before striking out on my own to represent actors. I mostly represented young actors just starting out. But as much as I enjoyed representing actors, I felt that I wasn't making much of a difference in the world. So I joined the Hollywood Women's Political Committee, along with Barbra Streisand, Columbia Pictures Television President Barbara Corday, Paula Weinstein and Lily Tomlin. I continued to represent actors because that's what brought the money in.

Q: What did you do at the committee?

A: We realized that it was hard for us to get noticed. The political figures would go visit all the studio heads who were mostly men at the time. So, we founded a political action committee. That way, when political figures came to Hollywood, they would have to come to us. One of the signature events we did was to put on a Barbra Streisand concert in 1987 to support a slate of Democratic candidates. We raised close to $2 million. That got us noticed.

Q: Is that when you first got involved in environmental issues?

A: Shortly after that concert, we got together and started talking about all the environmental problems that were making headlines at the time. There was beach pollution, the ozone hole, and the issue of global warming was just coming up on the radar screen. We all wanted to learn more about these problems, so the committee wrote some of the leading scientists and asked them to appear at a conference we were going to put on in Washington, D.C. It was a three-day conference with global climate change as its main focus. I went to this conference and a light turned on inside my head.

Q: What do you mean?

A: Well this conference was very boring to sit through listening to all these scientists talk as if they were in lecture halls. But the issues they were talking about were of immense importance. What was missing was taking what they were saying and making it relevant to people in their everyday lives. That's when I had what might be called a vision of sorts: You know how actors are paid a lot of money to help brand products? Well the Earth itself needed actors to help brand it. My inner voice was telling me this was what I needed to do next.

Q: So what did you do?

A: I started the Earth Communications Office, whose goal was to use actors to get out the word about global warming, pollution and other environmental problems, and then tell people about the simple steps they could take to address these problems. I formed a board of directors, composed of both big-name scientists and people in the Hollywood community. One of the first people who joined was Arnold Schwarzenegger. We made trailers to show in movie theaters and aired commercials.

Q: So how did you end up working for Arnold Schwarzenegger just a year later?

A: I was at a dinner over at Arnold and Maria's place and Arnold mentioned that he needed somebody to launch his Inner City Games Foundation, which provides inner-city youth a chance to participate in sports and related educational programs. I knew little about this, but I relished the opportunity to work with Arnold, so I accepted. In the first seven years, we built this small outfit into a 15-city, 10-state organization.

Q: What was it like working for Arnold Schwarzenegger?

A: I loved it. While I had been best friends with Arnold for years, it's quite another thing to be in the trenches working with him on something. When Arnold wants to do something, he goes full out and he's focused, smart and creative about it.

Q: Were you surprised by Arnold Schwarzenegger's decision to run for governor?

A: Yes, I was quite surprised. Arnold didn't even tell his closest friends he was going to run except of course for Maria. Then he announced on the Jay Leno show and a few hours later I received a call to come to his house for a preliminary meeting of the campaign staff. I was brought into the campaign as senior adviser because Arnold trusted my advice.

Q: That recall election was a wild and wacky campaign. Did you think at the outset that he had a chance to win?

A: I thought he had a very good chance of becoming governor. I think the Hollywood producer Brian Grazer said it best: Arnold is "a winning machine." He is the most focused, positive, "failure-is-not-an-option" person I've ever met. He also wanted to have fun doing it.


Q: In 2005, Schwarzenegger got untracked with four special election measures that went down in flames. As his senior adviser, why didn't you see this coming?

A: Well first of all, that's not how we looked at it. After that first year, he could have just rested on his laurels and coasted through on a series of noncontroversial measures. But that's not Arnold. Instead, he chose to go forward on even bigger ideas. And the opposition didn't get mobilized until the measures were on the ballot and couldn't be taken off again.

Q: What was it like living in Sacramento?

A: It was like living on a foreign planet. Sacramento is really two towns: a politician's town and an agricultural town. And then there was life within the administration. It really was like the "West Wing" series on television. I had two BlackBerries around the clock.

Q: How did you get involved with Pegasus Capital?

A: After Arnold got re-elected, I felt it was the right time to leave and find something a little less stressful. First, I took about four months to decompress, and boy, did I really need it. Then, (former California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary) Terry Tamminen and I got to talking. We saw all this smart money going to environmental technology companies, and we felt this was where the action was going to be. We wanted to be part of that, to help make sure the people who were putting up these billions of dollars were doing so in a responsible and worthwhile manner.

Q: So you work full time now with Pegasus?

A: I do. Our job is to find the right companies for Pegasus to invest in, organic companies, LED (light-emitting-diode) technology companies, etc. But I also am still a member of Arnold's California Dream Team and I'm still on the board of the Governor's Conference for Women that Maria Shriver chairs.

Q: What steps have you taken in your personal life to protect the environment? Do you drive a Prius? Have you outfitted your house with solar power?

A: I don't drive a Prius; they don't make a hybrid convertible. As soon as they do, I'm buying one. As for the house, I lease, so I can't install solar panels. But I do use canvas bags when I go shopping and I try to buy locally produced food to reduce my carbon footprint.

Q: What do you do to unwind?

A: I swim laps every day; that's my main form of destressing. I take walks along the beach and I also like to meditate, preferably out in nature.

Q: Having pursued so many different careers, do you feel you have sacrificed your personal life?

A: I actually think that as a woman being successful and having a career does require a bit more sacrifice. But I do make some time available for family and friends, and I try to give that priority whenever I can.

Q: You were evacuated in one of the recent Malibu wildfires. Can you describe what that was like?

A: My home is near Pepperdine University. Early on Sunday morning last October, I was awakened by the police for a mandatory evacuation. I had voluntarily evacuated in earlier fires, but this was the first mandatory one. Before that knock on the door, I had no idea there was a fire. I had only about five to 10 minutes to grab my two cats, some clothes and get out.

Q: Where did you go?

A: Not knowing what else to do, I called up Maria and asked if I could come over. When I showed up at their door at 6 a.m. on Sunday morning, they were quite surprised to see me. Then Arnold got wrapped up in tracking the firefighting response I got to listen to all those front-line reports. I must say that I was lucky. Not only did my home survive, but not everybody could just call up Arnold and Maria and evacuate to their home.


Bonnie Reiss

Title: Operating Adviser

Company: Pegasus Capital Advisors

Born: 1955; Queens, N.Y.

Education: B.A., business, University of Miami; J.D., Antioch School of Law (Washington, D.C.)

Career Turning Points: Joining the Ted Kennedy for President campaign in 1979 as a
volunteer; attending conference on global warming in the late 1980s; taking position as president of Arnold Schwarzenegger's Inner City Games
Foundation in 1994

Most Influential People: Members of the Kennedy family; Arnold Schwarzenegger

Hobbies: Going to movies; swimming; walking on beach; writing poetry

Personal: Lives in Malibu with two cats

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