Republicans Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman have contributed nearly $60 million of their own money to their gubernatorial campaigns. The presumptive Democratic nominee has conserved his funds.

By Shane Goldmacher

February 2, 2010

Reporting from Sacramento – With four months to go before the June primary election, the two leading Republican candidates for governor have poured more than $58 million of their personal fortunes into their campaigns while the presumptive Democratic nominee, state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, has conserved his money for the fight ahead.

The 71-year-old Brown, a former two-term governor who is still unannounced in the race, spent only $370,000 last year, mostly on mundane items such as $79,000 in office expenses, according to campaign filings released Monday. At the end of 2009, Brown had $12.1 million on hand for a contest that could shatter state spending records.

For every dollar Brown spent in 2009, billionaire Meg Whitman — who has invested $39 million in her campaign — burned through more than $50. The former EBay chief and political neophyte spent more than $19 million, much of it on a barrage of radio ads that have aired in tandem with her steady march upward in the polls.

Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, a multimillionaire who is challenging Whitman for the GOP nomination, landed in between. He infused his campaign with $19.2 million of his own money and spent $3.7 million in 2009.

“The money’s huge,” and especially advantageous for Whitman, said Bruce Cain, a professor of political science at UC Berkeley.

“Without that expenditure, she wouldn’t be where she is right now,” Cain said. “She’s had a chance to define herself, before the negative ads start.”

The campaign war chests — a combined $80 million for the three candidates for governor — will probably mean a flood of TV and radio ads in the coming months, mailboxes stuffed with slick political propaganda and a campaign that even the casually engaged Californian will not escape.

In addition to her radio spots, the 53-year old Whitman has spent freely on just about everything: chartered jets, a gold-plated website and a phalanx of campaign staff and political strategists that cost her more than $7.2 million last year. Her top paid strategists earned more than double what Brown spent on his entire campaign operation.

Roger Salazar, one of many Democratic strategists advising Brown for free, said the attorney general’s decades of experience meant he didn’t need so many paid advisors — and Brown has a reputation as a notorious penny-pincher.

“Because Jerry is Jerry,” said Salazar, “there isn’t a whole lot of expectation from political consultants that they’re going to get a whole lot [of money] out of it.”

Whitman was unapologetic about her spending.

“Our campaign budget is designed for one purpose: to deliver victory on election day,” Whitman said in a statement.

Beyond her personal wealth, Whitman outstripped both Poizner and Brown in donations amassed, collecting $10.2 million.

“Our campaign’s resources are an advantage for Republicans in the contest that lies ahead,” her statement said.

She has $30 million on hand, including $20 million she gave her campaign last month. She unveiled a new radio ad, this one starring former Gov. Pete Wilson, on Monday.

Brown has said he is hoarding his funds, readying for Whitman’s “paid takeover of the airwaves.”

One candidate, former Silicon Valley congressman Tom Campbell, was already driven from the governor’s contest by the race’s escalating costs. A former budget director for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Campbell swapped campaigns last month and now seeks the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer’s reelection bid this fall.

On Monday, Campbell reported raising $900,000 in his 2009 run for governor, but those funds cannot be used in his Senate bid; his first Senate fundraising report is due in April.

In that race, Campbell will face another wealthy former tech industry titan, Carly Fiorina, former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard. Fiorina had $2.7 million in her treasury at the end of 2009, largely from a $2.5-million loan she gave her campaign.

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