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Complaints from Jerry Brown prompt Chamber of Commerce to pull ad

The commercial, labeled an issue ad, accuses Brown of decades of overspending. It was taken off the air after four members of the chamber's board complained to the organization's chief.

April 09, 2010|By Anthony York and Michael Rothfeld

Reporting from Sacramento — The California Chamber of Commerce on Thursday said it would stop airing an ad attacking Jerry Brown amid objections from members of the organization, some of whom received calls from Brown and his wife demanding that the spot be removed.

The commercial, which the chamber labeled an "issue" advertisement, expresses alarm over runaway spending but mostly focuses on attacking Brown, the presumed Democratic nominee for governor, accusing him of decades of overspending.

In a letter Wednesday, four board members complained to Allan Zaremberg, the chamber's president and CEO, that the ad is a hit job that "undermines the chamber's credibility."

The board members, George Kieffer, Kevin Ratner, Robert Simonds and Cindy Starrett, said the board had not authorized attacks on candidates. In an interview, Kieffer, a Democrat, said he understood the chamber allotted more than $1 million to air the commercial.

"I just think the chamber made a mistake here," he said.

Other businesses represented on the chamber board soon began calling Zaremberg to express concern. After less than two full days on the air, Zaremberg said the ad was being pulled.

Brown and his wife, former Gap Chief Operating Officer Anne Gust, had mounted a lobbying effort to get the chamber to pull the ad. Officials at multiple companies on the board of the chamber said they were contacted by the candidate or his wife. The officials requested anonymity for fear of further antagonizing Brown.

Brown campaign spokesman Sterling Clifford declined to discuss the calls made by the candidate and his wife but said, "This campaign has worked very hard to make sure the chamber's misleading ads are taken off the air."

The campaign of GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman accused Brown, the state attorney general, of threatening companies belonging to the chamber with regulatory action against them and using his organized labor connections to stir unrest in their ranks. Whitman spokesman Tucker Bounds declined to name any companies that received threats.

"We understand the company leaders he telephoned to threaten include a labor-dependent retail company, as well as a financial services company that is directly regulated by Brown's office," Bounds said. "If what we have been told is true, Atty. Gen. Brown's conduct demands an immediate and impartial investigation."

Clifford called such claims "absolutely untrue."

Zaremberg said he had no communication with Brown directly but was "aware that he called members of our board."

Brown and his campaign "were engaged with some of our members," Zaremberg said.

Asked why the ad was pulled, Zaremberg said, "We're ready to move on to the next phase of our paid media campaign. We believe we've accomplished what we tried to accomplish with the first ad. . . . We probably got a little more attention than we expected."

anthony.york@latimes.com

michael.rothfeld@latimes.com

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