PolitiCal Flashback: Meg Whitman’s campaign spending shatters American political records


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With the California governor’s race in its final hours, PolitiCal will look back throughout the day at some of the key moments in this year’s historic contest.

Meg Whitman made it clear from the moment she declared her candidacy for California governor: She was prepared to spend whatever it took to get her message out to voters.


In the end, that number would end up topping $160 million, including $141.5 million of her own money. Whitman’s personal investment in the race topped the $109 million spent by Michael Bloomberg in his 2009 race for New York mayor.

‘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 [$15 million from Whitman to her own campaign] 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.

Brown’s campaign and parallel pro-Brown efforts funded by his union backers topped $50 million -- not exactly chump change, but nothing close to Whitman’s spending.

Much of the money, on both sides, was spent of television ads, both positive and negative. And in the closing days of the campaign, the candidates appeared on stage together one last time, along with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

At that event, NBC’s Matt Lauer asked both candidates to pledge to take down the negative ads for the campaign’s final week. Brown eventually agreed, becoming more animated as he appeared to sense the political nature of the moment. Whitman demurred.

‘It’s been a brutal year. I mean this campaign has been a blood bath,’ Lauer said. ‘With one week left, would either of you or both of you be willing to make a pledge that you would end the negativity?’ As the audience applauded raucously, Schwarzenegger smiled broadly and clapped, and the two candidates looked stunned. ‘Sometimes negativity is in the eye of the beholder,’ Brown said, before agreeing to take down his negative ads if Whitman did as well. ‘If Meg wants to do that, I’ll be glad to do that.’ Whitman at first tried to draw a line between personal attacks and record attacks, which Lauer dismissed as a ‘question of semantics’ and pressed her again. ‘I will take down any ads that could be even remotely be construed as a personal attack, but I don’t think we can take down ads that talk about where Gov. Brown stands on the issues,’ Whitman said, to boos.



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-- Anthony York in Sacramento