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Whitman sets U.S. record for candidate's donation to campaign

The Republican hopeful breaks New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's record. Democratic foe Jerry Brown derides the donation and her refusal to pull an ad featuring Bill Clinton.

September 16, 2010|By Seema Mehta and Michael J. Mishak, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Los Angeles and San Francisco — Smashing the record for the most money ever donated by a candidate in a political election, Republican Meg Whitman has written her gubernatorial campaign a $15-million check that brings her personal stake in the race to $119 million.

The new infusion pushed the billionaire candidate past the previous record holder: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who spent $109 million on his 2009 reelection bid.

"It takes a lot of money to be competitive in California," said Whitman, speaking to reporters after a campaign event at the San Francisco headquarters of Yelp, which provides online customer reviews. The money was donated Monday and reported to the secretary of state's office Tuesday.

Whitman noted that she had a competitive primary and has been campaigning for two years, and that unions have spent millions supporting Democratic nominee Jerry Brown.

"You are up against entrenched competitors. Jerry Brown has the best-known name in California politics," she said. "You can't underestimate the union spending."

Brown derided the donation late Wednesday, as he spoke to reporters at a celebration in downtown Los Angeles that commemorated the 200th anniversary of the start of the Mexican War of Independence.

"She's now the biggest spender in the history of the American republic, and I'm hoping the people will look behind the money to decide for themselves who can better lead our state in the coming years," he said.

The most visible effect of Whitman's deep pockets has been her ability to blanket the airwaves, notably in recent days with a controversial ad featuring 1992 footage of then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton flaying Brown's record on taxes during a Democratic primary debate.

The report upon which Clinton relied — a CNN story on Brown's governorship — has since been proved inaccurate, leading the Brown campaign to repeatedly call on Whitman to take down the ad. Clinton called the ad "misleading" as he endorsed Brown, despite their past enmity.

Whitman came under stern questioning on the ad from an audience member at her San Francisco event. The confrontation — and later questioning of the candidate's positions and strategies —- was rare for Whitman campaign events, which are usually held in front of wholly friendly audiences.

"Why are you refusing to remove an ad that has proven to be false and therefore misleading despite claims from both Bill Clinton and the CNN reporter who initially provided the fallacy? Why would you both knowingly and purposefully run a campaign that is based on lies?" asked Susan McKay, a 24-year-old account executive and registered Democrat.

The state Department of Finance has confirmed that the tax rate per each $100 of income declined under Brown's tenure, from 1975 to 1983. But Whitman said that when measured another way, taxes rose in specific years.

"The essentials of that ad are absolutely true," she said, adding later that "politics is a tough business and you have got to tell people why to vote for you."

Brown denounced Whitman's refusal to pull the ad and described her as a candidate dependent on a massive campaign staff.

"She has all these old political hacks, about 50 of them, working on her payroll; they tell her things and then she delivers the lines," he said during a morning appearance on KTTV-TV Channel 11 in Los Angeles. "I know this stuff, I've lived here, I've lived through it. When I speak, I speak from my heart and from my own personal experience."

Brown released a budget plan Tuesday that calls for fiscal austerity, pension reform and reducing environmental regulations. Specific proposals include setting up a rainy day fund, simplifying the state's tax structure, penalizing state leaders if they fail to pass a budget on time, vetoing legislation that lacks a means to pay for associated costs and proposing a constitutional amendment that would require future ballot initiatives to identify funding sources.

Many of the moves have been proposed by Republicans in the past, and a Whitman spokeswoman said Brown's proposals contradict his prior actions as governor.

"Jerry Brown is cynically supporting principles he used to oppose, demonstrating once again why he's just another Sacramento politician who Californians can't trust," said Andrea Jones Rivera.

Whitman's saturation of the airwaves with paid ads was the subject of a report released Wednesday by the Nielsen Co., which found that she aired twice as many television commercials for the week ending Sunday as Brown.

The report also examined total mentions on television, including ads and news reports. Whitman, who has been campaigning all summer, held a slight edge until Labor Day weekend, when Brown launched his campaign and released his first ad. Since Sept. 5, Brown has received substantially more mentions on television.

That number could be driven in part by his role as the state's attorney general. On Wednesday morning, Brown stood before dozens of reporters to announce that he had filed a sweeping lawsuit against Bell city leaders over a pension and pay scandal.

When asked if his actions could be seen as election-year politicking, Brown said he was doing his elected duty.

"I do have a day job. I'm working full time here, and this is my responsibility, and we've done gang takedowns, we've sued employers who cheat their workers and we're suing officials in Bell who abused their trust," he said, speaking in at the attorney general's office downtown Los Angeles.

seema.mehta@latimes.com

michael.mishak@latimes.com

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