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Meg Whitman

Calif. money flows to super PACs as state lawmakers seek limits

Wealthy Californians are keeping the money flowing to super political action committees, even as some state lawmakers want to turn off the faucet.

Super PACs on the left and right drew hefty contributions last month from the rich and famous – such as controversial comedian Bill Maher and GOP mega-donor Jerry Perenchio – as well as from the merely rich.

Meanwhile, state legislators are pushing bills to curb the proliferation of unlimited money in politics.

The California Assembly yesterday approved a resolution urging Congress to overturn the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The split decision helped give rise to super PACs by allowing unlimited contributions from corporations and unions to attack or support politicians, as long as the committees don't coordinate with candidates. The California bill, AJR 22, is part of a campaign to pass such resolutions around the country.

A trio of Assembly Democrats introduced another bill this week in an effort to go beyond a purely symbolic resolution. AJR 32 seeks to use a constitutional process whereby two-thirds of state legislatures can force Congress to call a constitutional convention. It calls for a constitutional amendment to declare that money does not equal speech, which would reverse decades of Supreme Court precedent.


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Losing San Francisco mayoral candidate spent $510 per vote

In losing the 2010 governor’s race, Republican Meg Whitman set a record for political spending in a California election: Her campaign cost $178.5 million.

But Whitman’s losing campaign against Democrat Jerry Brown appears somewhat more economical in terms of dollars spent per vote obtained. Whitman paid about $43 for each of the 4.12 million votes she attracted.

Compare that with the recent electoral foray of San Francisco Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting, who was among 16 contenders in the 2011 contest for mayor of San Francisco.

In losing to appointed incumbent Ed Lee, Ting spent an astonishing $510.45 per vote, according to data compiled by the CitiReport political website. Ting finished 12th, spending more than $500,000 to win 1,013 votes – and seemingly setting a record for spending the most money per vote in a major election in California.


Ting’s record comes with an asterisk: 60 percent of the money he spent came not from political donors, but from local taxpayers via the city’s public campaign finance law.

This information comes from a series of analytic reports on San Francisco campaign finance issues by CitiReport's Oliver Luby. Working from public records, he calculated what he called “votes per dollar” for the 2011 municipal election.

“The results may be useful in evaluating the value of election propaganda and determining which campaigns had inherent popularity or grassroots strength,” Luby writes.


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Whitman, former finance chair for Romney, gives little funding this time

UPDATE, Feb. 20, 2012: In a filing five days after this report was posted, Romney's Restore Our Future PAC reported a $100,000 donation from Whitman.

Back in the 1980s at Boston’s Bain & Co. business consulting firm, partner Mitt Romney mentored a promising young executive named Meg Whitman.

More than two decades later, when Whitman ran for governor of California, Romney and Bain gave her significant support.

Romney donated $25,900 – the maximum allowed by state law – and Bain executives pumped an additional $216,000 into Whitman’s losing campaign against Democrat Jerry Brown.

Now, Romney is battling to nail down the Republican presidential nomination. But so far at least, Whitman hasn’t proved a significant source of political money for Romney, records show.

The powerful California corporations with Whitman ties – online auction house eBay, where she was CEO before running for governor, and Hewlett-Packard, where she became CEO last year – haven't stepped up for Romney, either.


Federal Election Commission records show Whitman donated $2,500 to Romney’s campaign last year. She gave $5,000 more to his Free and Strong America PAC, through which Romney donates to Republican members of Congress, according to the records.

But Whitman, whose net worth when she left eBay was estimated at $1.4 billion, has not contributed to Restore Our Future, the super political action committee that is collecting as much as $1 million per donor to support Romney’s presidential bid.


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Insider trading, politics a familiar combination for Californians

Politicos have been abuzz about insider trading this week, after a "60 Minutes" piece released Sunday detailed questionable stock-trading rules that do not prohibit members of Congress from trading on information they hear during the course of their lawmaking.

But the issue should hardly be news to Californians. Similar controversies arose twice during last year’s statewide elections – and the difference between those cases in many ways illustrates the disparity between rules governing private executives and public servants.

The issue first surfaced early last year, when Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman faced criticism for her so-called “spinning” of initial public offerings – or IPOs – during her time as a board member at Goldman Sachs.

Spinning involves acquiring shares in a company before they are publicly available and then selling them at a profit after they are made available to investors. Such offerings often are structured to rise in value once the public offering is made, virtually guaranteeing the early stockholder a profit.

Whitman left Goldman Sachs after Congress began to investigate spinning among corporate executives, and the practice eventually was banned as part of a settlement.

Several months after the Whitman story broke, Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer was accused by her Republican opponent of engaging in a similar practice earlier in her Senate career.


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Whitman lost, but payday was sweet for many

The candidate was poised, motivated and smart as a whip. She had an impressive resume, influential supporters and unlimited resources.

In the end, none of it mattered. Meg Whitman’s Republican campaign for governor stalled over such issues as her alleged involvement in insider Wall Street stock deals and her alleged failure to pay her illegal-immigrant housekeeper.

It must have been frustrating indeed for the political professionals who ran the campaign. Whitman for Governor began with great promise, but it ended with a GOP official glumly declaring, “The Republican brand in this state is death.”

On the other hand, payday was sweet.

The final campaign finance report filed by the former eBay CEO and novice politician itemized $177 million of payments from the most expensive campaign in California history. However ineffective Whitman proved in making her case against Democrat Jerry Brown, her campaign spread the wealth – including $144 million of Whitman’s own fortune – to about 700 vendors, consultants and aides, records show.

California Watch last took a look at her campaign spending on Election Day. Here’s a final update: 

Overall, Whitman shelled out $1 for every 25 cents spent by Brown.

'Textbook example of how to run a bad campaign'

By the end of last weekend's panel on the 2010 election, Duf Sundheim, the former chairman of the California Republican Party, came to a stark conclusion: "The Republican brand in this state is death."

Even if Republicans were enjoying successes throughout the country in November, the GOP in California suffered for reasons beyond party affiliation, others argued. Jim Brulte, former Senate and Assembly Republican leader, said it would have been “very, very difficult under all circumstances” for Whitman to win.

Brulte argued that Californians voting for governor go Democrat, and when it comes to electing a chief executive, they choose experience. With few exceptions, Californians have "... not elected a governor who has not held statewide office before being elected governor,” he said.

“That said, those folks over there won a picture perfect campaign,” Brulte said, referring to the Brown team. “Her campaign started with a disadvantage and they didn’t do everything right. The other side did just about everything right.”

Politicians, professors, and students gathered this weekend for the Governor's Race: the Inside Story – a conference organized by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies since 1990 – to talk about the successes and failures of the governor’s race.

“What we’re trying to create here is an historical record of this campaign,” moderator and Los Angeles Times journalist Mark Barabak said.

Strategists for the campaigns of Brown, Steve Poizner, Tom Campbell, and Gavin Newsom were present for that record but in the place of the Whitman campaign, there was a void.


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Whitman ends the year ahead, at least on Google

Never let it be said that the $160-plus million that Meg Whitman spent on her record-shattering gubernatorial campaign didn't bear at least some returns: If the good folks at Google are to be believed, that money elevated her to a level of political celebrity that even national GOP headline-makers Scott Brown, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio couldn't match.

Last week, Google released its annual Zeitgeist report, which outlines the search giant's most popular searches in a number of different categories.

Although Whitman didn't crack the mainstream quite like Justin Bieber did, she did place second in the political category to Nikki Haley, whose search volume blasted through the roof around the time she was accused of having an affair with a conservative blogger last spring.

Coming in just behind Whitman were three other Republicans whose names have made national headlines this year: Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and senators-elect Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida.

Whitman's search volume peaked around a few key periods: the primary election in June, which she won handily; her general election defeat in November; and the late-September/early-October span, when it was revealed that she formerly employed an illegal immigrant housekeeper.


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State's candidates top list of defeated big spenders

You've heard this before, but just in case the point didn't register, the National Institute for Money in State Politics last week decided to beat you over the head with it one more time: Self-funded political candidates almost always lose.

Despite spending more than a quarter-billion dollars combined (more than half from our very own Meg Whitman), only three of the top 10 primarily self-funded candidates for state office nationwide actually won election, according to a study released last week by the institute.

The lucky winners were incoming governors Rick Scott, of Florida, and Rick Snyder, of Michigan. Of the 10 biggest self-funders, eight didn't even make it past the primary.

California is home to three of biggest spenders: Whitman, obviously; Steve Poizner, who Whitman decisively defeated in a contentious gubernatorial primary; and Democratic attorney general candidate Chris Kelly. Poizner's $24 million places him third on the list, behind Whitman and Scott. Kelly, who spent $12 million, was fourth.

With more than $178 million spent among them, California's self-funded candidates account for nearly 70 percent of the spending among the top 10 candidates nationwide. And that's not even counting Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, who spent more than $5.5 million of her own money only to lose to incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer.


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On Election Day, Whitman adds another $2.6M

As her campaign for governor collapsed around her, retired eBay CEO Meg Whitman kept up a cheery, optimistic front.

Perhaps she really was optimistic.

On Election Day, hours before California voters rebuffed the Republican challenger in favor of Democrat Jerry Brown, Whitman wrote her campaign another check, this one for $2.6 million, according to a filing with the California Secretary of State.

That pushed Whitman’s self-donations to more than $144 million. No American politician has spent that much personal money on a campaign, win or lose.

In the end Whitman only attracted 41 percent of votes cast, or about 3.9 million votes. That amounts to $36 of Whitman's own money for every vote she attracted.

Another high-profile election-day loser – Proposition 19, the measure to legalize marijuana – got 447,000 more votes than the billionaire political novice.

On Election Day, Whitman also got a $15,860 donation from John Middleton of Bryn Mawr, Pa., CEO of the McIntosh Inns hotel chain and part owner of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team, beaten by the San Francisco Giants in an exciting October playoff. That same day Whitman received $2,000 from Marilyn Nelson, CEO of the Minnesota-based Carlson Companies hotel chain. One final donation came in two days after the election: $5,000 from the EMD Serano pharmaceutical firm of Rickland, Ma.


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What Whitman could have bought with $140 million

Meg Whitman didn’t just outspend Jerry Brown in her losing campaign for governor.

The billionaire Republican outspent the entire field of 15 other candidates for statewide office combined, Democrats as well as Republicans.

The secretary of state’s totals don’t cover spending after Oct. 16, but final numbers are unlikely to change the trend line.

It looks like this:
















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