By Denis C. Theriault
Posted: 01/21/2010 06:24:02 PM PST
Updated: 01/21/2010 10:15:41 PM PST

SACRAMENTO — More than four months before California Republicans choose their next gubernatorial nominee, Meg Whitman has apparently broken the state’s unofficial record for self-contributions.

With her latest $20 million gift, reported this week, the billionaire former CEO of eBay has contributed $39 million to her campaign to date.

That puts her ahead of airline mogul Al Checchi, who spent almost as much of his own money in a failed bid for the Democratic gubernatorial primary in 1998.

According to a report from the Office of the Secretary of State, Checchi spent $38.9 million overall, and his campaign manager, Darry Sragow, said virtually all that money was Checchi’s.

But the contribution drew sharp words Thursday from Whitman’s rival in the June 8 primary, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, who accused her of trying to “buy” the election.

Poizner — who trails Whitman both in the polls and in fundraising — also complained that she hasn’t made herself available to reporters and has failed to appear in any candidate debates.

“What kind of campaign is she running?” Poizner told the Mercury News. “She thinks she can buy this race through television and radio advertising?”

Whitman’s campaign took the criticism of her spending in stride and said it’s looking beyond the primary race, in anticipation of a general election scrum against former Democratic Attorney General Jerry Brown.

“This campaign has a budget designed for one purpose: to win on Election Day in June and November,” spokeswoman Sarah Pompei said. “This election is about serious issues, and Meg’s momentum continues to grow.”

Poizner, a Silicon Valley multimillionaire in his own right, is no stranger to opening his wallet, having dropped $19.2 million of his own cash on his campaign.

In fact, Poizner’s self-contribution is still the fourth largest gubernatorial splurge in state history, behind Checchi’s, Whitman’s and $35 million in 2006 from Democrat Steve Westly, also an eBay executive.

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