California Watch
A Project of the Center for Investigative Reporting
Money and Politics

March 18, 2010 | Lance Williams

The election for governor is nine months off – the primary isn’t until June 8. But Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman went after one another yesterday with the vigor often reserved for a campaign’s home stretch.

At issue were attack ads, independent expenditure campaigns and Whitman’s tax returns. Abject cynicism and former President Nixon also came up.

In a Sacramento event with delegates from the laborers’ international union, Brown, the attorney general, former governor and presumed Democratic nominee, urged organizes labor to donate funds to “attack” Whitman, the wealthy Republican front-runner.

“We’re going to attack whenever we can, but I’d rather have you attack,” the LA Times quoted Brown as saying. “I’d rather be the nice guy in this race. We’ll leave (the attacks) to…the Democratic Party and others.”

To Whitman spokesman Tucker Bounds, the “and others” line seemed a reference to the independent expenditures campaigns Democrats have set up to raise money for anti-Whitman electioneering.

The Democratic Governor’s Association has put money into political consultant Nick Velasquez’s California Accountability Project, which hot-combs the public remarks of Whitman and Republican rival Steve Poizner, looking for misstatements. (Vasquez recently charged that Whitman has given five different head-counts – from 19 to 35 — for the number of employees at eBay when she joined the startup a decade a go.)

Then there’s the Level the Playing Field campaign run by a team of Democratic strategists, including former Clinton White House operative Chris Lehane. It recently was agitating for eBay corporate records to document Whitman’s alleged misuse of the company’s “opulent” private jets.

Whitman is already irked at the group: Last month Whitman filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission, accusing Level the Playing Field of failing to disclose who paid for a recent barrage of anti-Whitman radio ads.

Yesterday Whitman’s spokesman accused Brown of “playing fast and loose with the campaign laws” by egging on what are supposed to be independent committees. Whitman herself called Brown’s remarks “a troubling example of the cynical style of politics that helped create the terrible crisis California now faces.”

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