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Donations to Whitman undercut her no-special-interests claim

Donors with business before the state and corporate leaders poured millions of dollars into Meg Whitman’s campaign in the last three months, potentially undercutting her claim that her personal fortune makes her uniquely free of special-interest entanglements, campaign disclosure reports filed Tuesday show.

Whitman, the billionaire former chief executive of online auction house EBay, raised more money from outside donors than her Democratic rival, Jerry Brown, whom she has criticized heavily for his dependence on support from the state’s public employee unions. Whitman pulled in more than $10.7 million from individuals, businesses and other groups to Brown’s $9.5 million.

Although those figures don’t tell the whole story — unions and other special interests separately spent a further $13.7 million supporting Brown through independent political committees not controlled by the candidate — they highlight that Brown is not the only one getting a big assist from wealthy individuals and groups. More than one out of every four dollars Whitman raised over the last three months came from someplace other than her personal fortune. Donors giving the maximum allowable $25,900 donation to Whitman while lobbying state government include Philip Morris, AT&T, the Western States Growers and Golden State Water Co.

Whitman has support from at least one union – she has been the beneficiary of a $450,000 independent expenditure campaign by the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents LAPD officers. Whitman has proposed tough controls on public pensions, but less stringent changes for law enforcement officers.

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Whitman downplays the significance of her outside donors, arguing that their contributions pale in comparison with the record-breaking $119 million she has poured into the race. She gave herself $28 million during the reporting period.

“What I see is people from all different industries, all different parts of California want to invest in a new vision of California,” she told reporters after a San Francisco campaign event last month. “Every one of my donors says, ‘We want you to do what you think is right for the people of California.’ … If Jerry Brown is elected governor, there will be a meeting, and it will be the public employee unions coming to collect their IOUs for having completely funded his campaign. So it’s completely different.”

The prominent contributions to her campaign from companies with business before the state could undercut that argument, some political observers say. “She had a chance before to make a claim that she was the cleaner candidate,” said Thad Kousser, a political scientist at UC San Diego. “She could be trading away the potential advantage her own fortune has given her.”

Brown faces criticism for his reliance on organized labor as well as business. He raised maximum contributions from several unions, including the AFL-CIO in Washington, and received large campaign checks from Indian gambling groups, which he oversees as the state’s attorney general.

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In addition, Brown also got substantial support from companies and wealthy individuals in the entertainment industry. He received $5,000 from Paramount Pictures Group, $10,000 from DreamWorks CEO Stacey Snider, as well as donations from actors Sean Penn, Kate Capshaw, producer Norman Lear and singer Barbra Streisand.

Companies that gave to Brown include Qualcomm Inc., Direct TV, E & J Gallo Winery, Young’s Market, AT&T, and GTECH, which is paid tens of millions of dollars to provide the California Lottery with software support, equipment and other services.

On the expenditure side, Whitman’s campaign vastly outspent Brown and his allies, sinking most of the nearly $40 million spent during the reporting period into a barrage of blistering TV spots seeking to define Brown as a career politician and tax-and-spend liberal. One ad featured footage of candidate Bill Clinton flaying Brown in a 1992 presidential debate over the former two-term California governor’s tax record. The CNN report upon which Clinton relied has since been proved inaccurate and the former president has endorsed Brown.

Whitman spent at least $13 million on production costs and airtime for TV and radio ads in September alone. By comparison, Brown spent $10 million during the entire three-month period, with most of it going to TV ads last month, partly to combat the Clinton spot and to portray Whitman as a wealthy executive whose policies would enrich the elite while hurting the middle class.

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Labor unions carried Brown’s message throughout much of the summer. The biggest effort was the $6.5 million spent by California Working Families, a group whose money comes from donors, including more than $1 million each from the California Professional Firefighters Assn. and the State Building and Construction Trades Council.

According to recent polling the race is a close heat, with many voters in the undecided column and negative perceptions of the candidates on the rise.

Labor’s push over the summer on Brown’s behalf represented the largest role yet that outside committees have played in a gubernatorial election.

“It’s the culmination of what’s been building up for a while — the outsourcing of a campaign, especially the most negative parts,” Kousser said. “If you don’t have to fund the attack ads and take responsibility for them, that’s the best of both worlds for the candidate. It’s also the most worrying thing for people concerned about campaign finance reform.”

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Whitman had $9 million in cash on hand at the end of the period, compared with Brown’s $22.5 million.

In the contest for state attorney general, Los Angeles County Dist.Atty. Steve Cooley, a Republican, held a slight edge in campaign fundraising over San Francisco Dist.Atty. Kamala Harris, the Democrat in the race. Cooley raised $2.1 million during the last three months and had $1.7 million in the bank on Sept. 30. Harris raised $1.8 million and ended the period with $1.3 million in the bank.

The backers of an initiative to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in California are leading in campaign funding over opponents as of Sept. 30.

The “Yes on Prop. 19 Tax Cannabis 2010" committee reported spending $842,946 so far this year and having $67,467 left in the bank Sept. 30. Major donors include S.K. Seymour, a medical marijuana provider; Agramed; and Dale Gieringer, state director of the marijuana legalization group NORML.

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The leading opposition group, “Public Safety First, No on Proposition 19,” reported spending $199,000 this year after raising $158,400 and accumulating some unpaid bills. Leading donors to the group include the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, which gave $25,000; the California Narcotics Officers Assn., which contributed $20,500; and the California Beer and Beverage Distributors, which put in $10,000.

Backers of Proposition 23, the ballot initiative to suspend California’s global warming law, had raised $8.36 million as of Sept. 30, with the largest amount, $4.05 million, donated by Valero Services Inc. Valero, a San Antonio-based company, operates oil refineries and gas stations in California.

Opponents of Proposition 23 received an infusion of cash from venture capitalists, renewable energy companies, health groups and environmentalists, bringing total contributions to $12.6 million as of Sept. 30. The largest contributor is Thomas Steyer, the founder of Farallon Capital Management, a San Francisco hedge fund.

michael.mishak@latimes.com

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com


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