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Money Talks

How Meg Whitman Is Trying to Buy Governorship with State’s First $100 Million Campaign


Here’s all you need to know about California’s race for governor: Republican Meg Whitman has paid far more for stamps than Democrat Jerry Brown has spent on his entire campaign.

New campaign finance reports filed this week show Whitman, the former eBay CEO who long ago shattered all previous state spending records, has already paid $100.8 million—$91 million of it her own money in her bid to replace Arnold Schwarzenegger—with the race’s three-month stretch to November 2 just starting.

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Brown, the state Attorney General and 72-year-old former wonder boy of California politics, by contrast has spent $377,000 in 2010—substantially less than Whitman has averaged every day since the start of the year.

A onetime Jesuit novitiate, Brown’s natural parsimony was aided, of course, by facing no opposition in his party primary, while Whitman first had to demolish Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, who forked out a mere $25 million of his own cash in a badly losing effort, to capture her nomination. It’s also true that since the June 8 primary, a collection of union-backed independent expenditure committees have spent about $5 million to attack the GOP candidate in TV spots on behalf of Brown.

Notwithstanding that, Whitman’s 691-page finance report is an astonishing document that, by any measure, demonstrates her unbridled enthusiasm for spending whatever it takes to win the governorship. In addition to more than $60 million that’s gone into buying air time to broadcast her ubiquitous ads—she’s run 25,727 of them around the state just since the primary—here’s a look at some of the merely miscellaneous items in her report:

  • $9.7 million on campaign consultants (including $90,000 a month for chief strategist Mike Murphy.)
  • $4.3 million on other campaign workers’ salaries.
  • $2.8 million on her Web site and other technology.
  • $1.2 million on polling and research.
  • $462,030 on postage and delivery.

As a political matter, however, what’s perhaps most intriguing about the vast financial chasm between Brown and Whitman is that both have been widely criticized—he for saving his money too long and not responding to her televised attacks, and she for spending the equivalent of a small African nation’s GDP and not having much to show for it.

The latest Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll, released last week, showed that Brown to date appears to have played the smarter hand: he leads Whitman, 37-34 percent, with about 25 percent undecided.

That works out for Whitman to about $3 million for each percentage point of support; as a mere matter of arithmetic, this suggests that getting to the 51 percent she needs to capture the governorship will require about $150 million. Coincidentally, that is how much, at the beginning of the campaign, she said she was willing to spend of her billionaire fortune.

Saving his fundraising resources to spend after Labor Day, Brown has about $23 million in the bank, while Whitman now has about $10 million cash on hand in her campaign account. Not to worry, though, there’s plenty more where that came from.

POLL POTPOURRI: Some other interesting findings from the new PPIC survey:

  • Incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer leads Republican Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, 39-34 percent, with 22 percent undecided, in the race for the U.S. Senate. A plurality of voters has an unfavorable view of Boxer’s job performance, a precarious situation for any incumbent in 2010, but she is leading among independent voters, who hold the balance of power in statewide elections, 35-29 percent.
  • In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, voters now overwhelmingly oppose new offshore oil drilling in California by 59-37 percent. Likely voters say they are against more drilling, a huge swing from last year, when such voters favored drilling 55-41 percent.
  • Despite the state’s higher-than-national unemployment rate of 12.5 percent, voters still support California’s landmark climate change law; the measure, known as AB32, calls for greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020. Led by Texas oil companies, backers of Proposition 23 on the November 2 ballot say the law is a “job killer” that should be suspended until unemployment falls to 5.5 percent. But Californians are so far rejecting that argument by 43-28 percent; likely voters say the greenhouse gas law will mean more jobs, not fewer.

You can see the entire PPIC poll at ppic.org/main/publication.asp?i=949.

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