Responding to widespread criticism, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last week cut his financial ties to bodybuilding magazines that were paying him millions of dollars. But observers, including elected officials and experts on political ethics, raked him over the coals for initially rejecting calls to end the payments and then refusing to return funds already received.

The furor erupted after American Media Inc. filed reports June 13 with the Securities and Exchange Commission showing that just before becoming governor Schwarzenegger contracted to serve as a consultant “to further the business objectives” of Weider Publications, a subsidiary that publishes Muscle & Fitness and Flex magazines. Under the agreement, he received 1 percent of the magazines’ advertising income, mostly from nutritional supplement manufacturers. It was estimated payments could reach $8 million over the five years of the agreement, with $1.5 million of the total going to a tax-exempt physical fitness group the governor founded.

Schwarzenegger had said last year he is executive editor of the two magazines, and prepares monthly columns. American Media Inc. also publishes the tabloid newspapers National Enquirer, Globe and Star.

It is not against California law for the governor to hold outside jobs. But the deal aroused special concern on two counts: Schwarzenegger’s repeated pledges both before and after his election to do away with the influence of “special interests” in Sacramento, and his veto last year of a bill by state Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) to cut supplement use by high school athletes. Speier has reintroduced the measure as SB 37.

Calling Schwarzenegger’s action “a good first step,” Marie M. Ishida, executive director of the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), said in a telephone interview that she is “disappointed the governor didn’t take this action a lot sooner.” The delay “sends the wrong message to kids,” she said.

“If Governor Schwarzenegger signs Senator Speier’s new legislation when it reaches his desk, it will send a very strong message,” Ishida added. CIF supports the bill to create a list of substances banned from interscholastic sports, bar supplement makers from sponsoring school events, and require coaches to take a course in performance enhancing supplements.

The governor’s actions “show again that he’s a hypocrite,” said Robin Swanson of the labor-community Alliance for a Better California, which is contesting right-wing ballot propositions by Schwarzenegger and others in California’s Nov. 8 special election. “When he ran he said he didn’t need the [$175,000 yearly] governor’s salary, and he wouldn’t take money from special interests,” she said. But, Swanson pointed out, Schwarzenegger has not only raised political funds from special interests at a unprecedented rate but has taken personal money as well. “Of course it’s a conflict of interest,” she said.