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EBay founder praises Whitman but refuses to endorse her

Pierre Omidyar says the Republican would do a 'great job' if elected but said they disagree over the same-sex marriage ban and her selection of former Gov. Pete Wilson as campaign chairman.

September 22, 2010|By Seema Mehta and Michael Mishak, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Los Angeles and Burlingame, Calif. — The EBay founder who hired Meg Whitman as his company's chief operating officer, giving her a platform on which to run for governor, said Tuesday that he would not endorse her because of Whitman's opposition to same-sex marriage and her alliance with former Gov. Pete Wilson.

Pierre Omidyar praised Whitman's leadership skills and said she would do a "great job" if elected, but said he would find it "difficult" to vote for her if he still lived in California.

"Now I have not endorsed her because we have some differences on some of the political issues," Omidyar, who is now based in Hawaii, told Bloomberg TV in an interview that will air Wednesday on "InBusiness with Margaret Brennan."

"I was disappointed in her not-correct decision, in my view, to support Proposition 8 in California. I was disappointed in her alignment with former Gov. Pete Wilson on immigration issues, who I think took some very extreme views years ago about denying benefits to illegal immigrants. And so because of those types of issues, I think we are a little bit apart, and I can't quite support her because of that."

Wilson, who is a co-chairman of Whitman's campaign, was a vocal supporter of a 1994 ballot measure that would have stripped taxpayer-funded benefits from illegal immigrants. Whitman was not living in California in 1994 but has said she would have opposed that measure. She said she supported 2008's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California. As governor, she said, she would go to court to back the measure — a step both Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, her Democratic rival in the governor's race, have declined to take.

Whitman, who was raising money Tuesday with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the Bay Area, issued a gracious statement about Omidyar's remarks.

"Pierre is a close friend and I greatly enjoyed working with him at EBay for 10 years. While we disagree on some issues, I appreciate his acknowledgement that I would do a great job as governor," she said. "That means a lot to me. After spending many years working together growing a company, he knows better than anyone the leadership I can bring to Sacramento."

The GOP candidate, who is making her first run for elected office, has staked her campaign on her experience at EBay, which she led as it grew from a small Silicon Valley start-up into a multibillion-dollar success story. The candidate, who became a billionaire during her time at EBay, has put $119 million of her wealth into her campaign, making her the largest self-funding candidate in U.S. history. Whitman has featured former EBay employees in her ads and peppers campaign speeches with references to her time at the online auction powerhouse.

Omidyar has avoided weighing in on Whitman's candidacy until now. The billionaire philanthropist has a lengthy history of donating to Democratic politicians, but he has supported a handful of Republicans as well. Attempts to reach him Tuesday were unsuccessful.

But he is not alone among EBay insiders in declining to support Whitman. Steve Westly, a Democrat who sought the governorship in 2006, has avoided discussing Whitman's candidacy publicly but is hosting a private fundraiser on Thursday for her Democratic rival.

Omidyar, who wrote the computer code for what became EBay when he was 28, lavished praise on Whitman's decade-long tenure at EBay.

"She is a fantastic executive. She did a great job at EBay," he said. "Her real skill is using data to inform strategic decisions, and bringing teams together, putting the right people in the right jobs at the right time."

He also pledged to "absolutely" work with Whitman if she is elected.

"I think she would do a great job," he said. "And I would work, of course, to change her mind on some of these other issues."

Whitman kicked off a week of high-profile fundraisers with the evening reception with Rice. On Wednesday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will campaign with the GOP nominee, and on Friday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will headline two events.

During Tuesday night's fundraiser with Rice in Burlingame, Whitman tried to rally her supporters for the final six weeks of the general election campaign.

"Over the next 42 days we have a chance to make history," Whitman told the crowd. "Rarely has California had the chance to put a real, proven job-creator in the governor's office. And of course, never before has a woman led our state."

She also boasted of the enthusiasm that has Republicans optimistic about gaining seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.

"They are carrying pitchforks and torches and saying, 'Which way to the castle?'" Whitman said of her fellow Republicans.

Rice and Whitman sat together after the candidate's remarks, holding an on-stage conversation.

"California once stood for what was best about this country: opportunity, dreams, creativity, innovation," Rice said. "And it's going to stand for that again. And when it does, the country will be on a better course and so will the world."

seema.mehta@latimes.com

michael.mishak@latimes.com

Mehta reported from Los Angeles and Mishak from Burlingame, Calif.

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